Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

When I left off, I was driving around, grouchy and frustrated. Also hungry, confused about what time it was, and too damn hot. Both dogs were panting from the heat, even with the AC running as high as it could go. Finding a campground with electric hook-ups felt like a good idea. I’d passed a couple of signs for state parks on my way to Zion and according to the Allstays app, one of them — Sand Hollow State Park — had some sites with electricity. I couldn’t make a same-day reservation and it was already after five, but it was close enough that I figured it was worth a try.

Total, total score.

Campsite picture

The ranger who assigned me my campsite asked if I was okay backing in. Ha. This site is huge and paved and the easiest parking job I think I’ve ever had.

Sand Hollow is a newer park, I think. The sites in the westside campground are spacious. They include water, electric and sewer hook-ups, a shelter, a picnic table, a grill and a fire pit, plus plenty of room, both to park and have loads of stuff or loads of people. Seriously, there’s room around the fire pit for a twenty-person party, easily.

And the view is unbelievable. My site is at the top of a low hill, surrounded by mountains, a lake to one side. At night, the stars are amazing, but there’s also a town in the distance, so a sparkling necklace of house and traffic lights. Darkness here is beautiful. And the sunrise went on forever.

panoramic sunrise

Sunrise at Sand Hollow

Also, it’s been months since I had a water hook-up and it feels incredibly luxurious. I was pouring the requisite two inches of rinsing water into my dishpan yesterday and thought, oh, wait, I can use the sink. I actually laughed at myself because turning on the faucet and watching water come out made me so delighted. Running water! How exciting! But I haven’t had a water hook-up for most of the summer, so I’ve gotten used to using water jugs and being really conservative with my water use. I’m not being wasteful, of course — it’s still a desert, despite the big lake within walking distance — but it was nice to just thoroughly wash the dishes.

It’s also nice to sit still for a couple of days. It’s amazing that I’ve been doing this for over a year and I still haven’t figured out the best travel pattern for me. Maybe that’s because it changes? But I really don’t want to travel multiple days in a row if I don’t have to. Even if the drive is only a couple of hours, it’s tiring.

And no drive is ever only a couple of hours — packing up to move, then setting up at the destination, plus usually errands in the middle — always turns a drive into a day’s adventure. My shortest drive of this current journey was from Fossil Falls to Calico Ghost Town. I knew where I wanted to go in the morning, so wasn’t spending time along the way figuring it out, and the drive was under three hours and yet somehow, at the end of the day, all I felt like I’d accomplished was the move.

I also have to remind myself that I am not on an extended vacation. I read blog posts from fellow RVers who are visiting attractions and restaurants, hiking and kayaking and adventuring, and I feel like I should be doing more, more, more. But that’s not my version of #vanlife and not even the life I want to be living. Today’s adventure — taking a leisurely walk with Zelda around the campground, sitting in the sun while I ate my granola and yogurt, trying to meditate, looking at photos, writing a blog post — this is a good adventure. A really good adventure. If it includes some good words on Grace (yesterday I was seriously and maddeningly stuck, Max would not behave the way I wanted him to, grrr…), then it’s a great adventure.

And a great campground. If I didn’t have Grand Canyon reservations and a yearning to be back in Florida by the holidays, I would wander up to the front office and extend my reservation for a few more days. But tomorrow will be laundry and groceries (including buying new leashes for the dogs because somehow I mysteriously lost them between Calico Ghost Town and here), and then the North Rim.

All the gory details

I woke up yesterday morning and thought, wow, this looks like the scene of a crime. If I mysteriously disappeared, I wonder what the police would think when they investigated? It would have been a perfect location for it, too: the campground at Calico Ghost Town, a little east of Barstow, CA.

Calico cemetery sign

The cemetery would be an excellent spot to discover a dead body. Or rather to have a character discover a dead body. In real life, I’d really rather not stumble across any corpses.

At a busy time, the campground would have been the kind of place I hate: sites close together, basically a parking lot, with minimal outside room between one site and the next. But on a Sunday/Monday in September with no special events at the ghost town, there was plenty of room. I think there were about six campers/tents total in a campground with room to accommodate a couple of hundred. Perfectly comfortable.

And a deserted desert campground next to a ghost town? It’d be an excellent paranormal/horror setting. Or even a mystery/thriller. The town is cute enough that you could even do it as a cozy.

Or course, the real story of my personal crime scene was nothing so interesting (or depressing, I guess, depending on how you look at it.) As pretty much everyone I spend time with discovers, I am prone to bloody noses. Generally, my nose just starts dripping blood, a little gentle trickle. I feel a hint of wet, touch it with a suspicious finger or two, and yep, blood. It’s happened in stores, in restaurants, in friends’ cars, anywhere, everywhere. FYI, if you start dripping blood all over the floor in a public place, otherwise lackadaisical sales clerks will run to get you tissues or paper towels. It’s usually not a big deal — a couple tissues and it quickly stops.

Exception: the night before last. I think it might have been because the air was very, very dry in southern CA, but in the middle of the night, the blood just started gushing. Of course, it was dark and I couldn’t find the tissues and I was camped at a place where the van wasn’t connected to water, so I couldn’t just turn the sink on, and the dogs were underfoot — I wasn’t worried about it in the middle of the night, but in the morning… yeah, it was gross.

It really would have made a good fake crime scene, though. Especially because I also had my vacuum sealer out to store some chicken for later sous vide cooking. Vacuum sealers are great for storing food and really handy for sous vide cooking, but as I learned in Arcata, they’re also an essential tool for major drug dealers. Ha.

But I cleaned it up, of course, then took a shower (with much gratitude at being in a place where I could easily take a shower!) and dumped the trash with its excessive quantity of bloody tissues and paper towels, then headed out. We started with a visit to the ghost town, Calico. I’d arrived the afternoon of the previous day but it had been so hot that I just plugged into the electricity, turned on the AC and waited for it to cool down. A metal box is not a good place to be when the temps are in the 90s. But pets are allowed in the ghost town, so before moving on, we went and wandered around a little. It didn’t feel very ghostly. Mostly because even early on a Monday morning in September, it was filled with tourists — two busloads of them beat me there!

By 10 AM, I was in the van, ready to move. Suzanne and I had mapped out a route to the Grand Canyon back in Arcata. At the time, it sounded fun to take the scenic routes. And I’d thoroughly enjoyed at least some of said scenic routes — 89 around Lake Tahoe was well worth driving. But I was starting to get really tired of spending days behind the wheel. And I was also seriously mourning gas prices. It was over $4/gallon at places in CA as I drove south: in a vehicle that gets about 15-17 mpg, that starts to add up fast.

Plus, it occurred to me as I looked at my GPS, if I gave in and let the GPS take me where it wanted to go, I’d drive through Nevada and Utah, adding two more states to Serenity’s total. That’s a silly reason, I know, but… well, it amuses me. I’m up to 36 states as of yesterday. By the time I make it back to the east coast, I’ll only have 6 left in the continental United States that I haven’t driven though in Serenity: Delaware, Rhode Island, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan.

So, in the interest of gas prices, less driving time, and a meaningless checkmark on a list of states, I took 15 up through Las Vegas and across to Utah. In St. George, I started trying to figure out where I should stay. Alas, I fell for some wishful thinking. The Reserve America app, my favorite app for finding cool campgrounds, said that walk-ins might be available at the campground inside Zion National Park. I took a chance that they were right, had an absolutely beautiful drive, but gave up before I even made it to the campground.

The park was packed with people. It was Mt. Rushmore all over again, not quite so kitschy, but definitely an absolutely thriving population of tourist attractions. Nice ones — in a different life, one that included more money, cooler temperatures, and an assurance of dog safety, I would have loved to wander around the town that leads into the park. As it was, I stayed stuck in traffic long enough for all my appreciation of the incredible beauty to turn into grouchy annoyance and tired frustration. Then I made a u-turn and drove back to Hurricane, Utah, trying to figure out a good place to spend the night.

A good place to spend the night when the temperatures were in the high 80s needed to include enough privacy that I could run the generator to keep the dogs cool without feeling guilty about my neighbors or an electric hook-up.

Long story short, I found it. Electricity and more! But I will write about it tomorrow, because somehow it has already become mid-afternoon. Where do the hours go?!

On fear

Yesterday, I did not pick up several hitchhikers.

Quite recently I told a friend the story of the last hitchhiker I ever picked up, about eighteen years ago, and how he was the last hitchhiker I would ever pick up. It’s a longish story, but the short version is that I spent the ride letting him believe increasingly elaborate lies, because he made me seriously nervous. I dropped him off and drove away feeling incredibly lucky that I hadn’t wound up a statistic, disappeared, probably dead.

Now I feel like I should tell the whole story — why I’d picked him up, what the lies were — but it would take too long and it’s not really relevant. The point is that I’ve picked up several hitchhikers in my life, but I was resolved never to do so again. And I’ve seen a lot of hitchhikers on my way south. Oregon, in particular, had quite a few, none of whom fazed me in the least to drive by. I suspect that your average unshaven guy in dirty khaki does not expect a solo woman to stop for him. Indeed, would be quite surprised if I did.

But the first hitchhiker I did not pick up yesterday was not your average unshaven guy in khaki. He did have a beard, but also a bicycle that he was walking. He was older, gray-haired, and from his gear, camping. Probably on a long bike trip, and I’m going to guess that something had gone wrong, maybe with his bike, because he was trudging along, head down. I actually drove by him twice, because I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack, and the second time, he, clearly impulsively, stuck out his thumb. I kept driving.

For the next several miles, I alternated between feeling guilty and scolding myself for feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I think he probably needed help and I think I probably could have helped him. On the other hand, he was only three or four miles away from a town, and although traffic was scarce, there were definitely other people who would drive by. It wasn’t the middle of the desert. And I certainly didn’t owe him a ride. Plus, I really don’t want to wind up playing a starring role in a cautionary tale about hitchhikers.

But eventually, I started thinking about fear. Rational fear, irrational fear. Fear that stops me, fear that I face.

When I was in Seattle, P described me as bad-ass to one of her friends. I demurred. Nope, not me. I am actually quite cowardly. I tell myself scary stories all the time. I worry about everything — flat tires, getting lost, coyotes, alligators, bears, corrupt policemen, propane explosions, the end of the world — seriously, everything. If it is possible to worry about something, I guarantee I have worried about it. Mice carrying hanta virus, stepping on HIV-infected needles, falling off a cliff… I have it covered.

That said, I am trying, really hard, to live a life where I don’t let those things stop me. Yesterday, driving south, I stopped at a scenic vista overlooking Mono Lake. I admired the view, then used the internet to post a blog post, check my email, read some news, and look for a place to spend the night. I was driving along 395 and there were plenty of places, but I didn’t know how far I wanted to go, where I wanted to stop, what I wanted to do. Eventually, I kept going. A couple hours later, I stopped again. Decisions, decisions.

There was this place: Fossil Falls. A Bureau of Land Management campground. It sounded interesting. But also, maybe, remote. Isolated. Potentially… well, scary. I decided that I would drive through it and check it out. See what it was like. And if I didn’t like it, I would just keep driving. Maybe spend the night in a Walmart parking lot in Barstow. It’s funny that parking lots have become not-scary — I still remember how freaked out I was my first night in a parking lot, back in West Virginia, but that was a long time ago.

So Fossil Falls. Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

camper van against desert background

Serenity, looking very, very alone.

desert landscape

That little gray spot, barely visible, is Serenity.

Definitely remote. Definitely isolated. Definitely, well, scary. At least if you’re me and not the kind of camper who loves remote wilderness and doesn’t worry about serial killers and rabid coyotes. I felt like I could see forever and not see any other human thing. Just mountains and desert. When the sun set, I couldn’t see a single light created by a human being except for the ones that I’d brought with me.

This morning, B decided he had to go out at 5AM. I complained bitterly, but I got up. It was still dark, but with a sliver of crescent moon and the morning star. It was chilly, but not cold, so I made myself some coffee — instant, because I didn’t want to turn the generator on to run the electric coffeemaker — and sat outside on the van’s step to watch the sunrise. When it got light enough, I took Zelda for a walk, and we went and saw the falls. Fossil Falls because the water is centuries gone, but once upon a time, a river flowed through the volcanic rock. When we got back, I set up my chair and worked on my screen door while the sun got higher in the sky and it started to get warm.

a crescent moon

A sliver of crescent moon against the sky


I am so glad that I didn’t let fear stop me from staying here.

Which doesn’t mean I’m going to start picking up random hitchhikers willy-nilly. It’s not irrational to be careful about letting strangers into my home. But I’m not going to let fear drive my decisions, either. “Once upon a time, something bad might have happened but didn’t,” should not become a hard-and-fast rule for how I live my life. Neither should, “I heard a scary story about something bad that happened to someone else.”

But now, onward! I’ve got more driving to do, and somewhere along the way today, it would be a lovely thing to find a place with a shower. But hey, it’s been a while since I posted one of these, but if you have any Amazon shopping to do, starting here might earn me an affiliate fee, which would be nice for me. If you’re already supporting a charity through your Amazon purchases, use your own link, though — I don’t want my pennies to take away from someone who needs them more!

Kit Carson Campground, Toiyabe National Forest

wildflowers at Kit Carson Campground

Wildflowers at Kit Carson Campground

I hate sewing. Like, really, really hate it. Hate it so much that when I was sitting on my friend P’s couch, working on my screen door project, every other sentence out of my mouth included the words “hate” and “sewing.” Some of them included words that started with f, too.

But I really need a screen door.

I can’t remember what I mentioned about the screen door before, but the van came with a very nice (albeit fragile) screen that worked sort of like sideways Venetian blinds, folding up into a metal frame and maintaining the proper tension through string. From the moment I saw it, I didn’t think it would last long with two dogs, so I’m sort of impressed that I managed to keep for over a year. But back in early August, Zelda walked through it as if it didn’t exist, shredding one of the strings. From that point on, it was a lost cause, hanging loose and falling out of the frame no matter what I tried.

When I was camping with P and R, we took the remnants down and experimented, trying to see what could be done. How about a screen that rolled up? Ugh, clunky. How about one that swung loose? Fine, as long as the weather was perfectly still, otherwise useless.

It obviously was a project that required ingredients and tools, so we set it aside, but when we got back to Seattle, I started strategizing. Eventually, I bought a roll of screen. Some glue. Some magnets. Some different magnets. Some velcro. Some different velcro. I experimented with magnetic tape and spray-on adhesive and began to be grateful that I’d bought a whole roll of screen. That was deliberate, actually. I am not a crafts kind of person, so I anticipated mistakes along the way.

Finally, I had a plan, more or less. Two pieces of screen, separated in the middle. Strong magnets along the top, sewn into the screen. Velcro along the sides of the door, on the inner part of the seal, so it didn’t interfere with the door closing. Velcro on the screen, with the edges sewn over so they didn’t catch and pull. Tiny magnets along the bottom of the screens, to link to the door frame, but still be weak enough to easily push the screens aside to go in and out. And in the middle… well, something still undecided, but whatever it will be, it would probably work best with a seamed edge. Maybe magnets, maybe just overlapping screen.

It wasn’t a bad plan, but it required a lot of sewing. Yuck. Even more because of screw-ups along the way, like sewing in a whole row of little magnets without checking to see which direction they were magnetized in. Not a good idea. They don’t work so well when they’re repelling the door frame instead of attracting it. Duh.

I did learn something really interesting, though. If you’re a right-handed person, sewing is a lot easier and a lot faster if you work left to right, like you’re reading a book. That way, you can use the fingers of your left hand to keep the thread from getting tangled. If you’re a right-handed person and you sew right to left — the way I seem to — the thread is constantly getting tangled and knotting up. I suspect my mother, who was left-handed and loved to sew, taught me to sew the way that worked for her and neither one of us ever realized I was doing it wrong. By the time I finish making these screens, I might not hate to sew anymore.

And I’m getting close.

That’s because I’ve been camped for two delightful days at Kit Carson Campground in the Toiyabe National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. It’s been awesome. The park is tiny — maybe a dozen campsites — and empty. There was one other camper here last night, but by 8 AM this morning, he’d packed up his tent and was gone. It was just me and nature. Beautiful nature, too. A stream, or maybe a river. Mountains, trees, flowers. Crisp air in the morning and sunlight in the afternoon.

Zelda and Serenity at our campsite

The campsite

And no internet. Minimal cell service. No electricity.

In other words, a distraction-free zone. After a long stretch of falling for ALL the distractions, it’s been great. I made good progress on Grace, finally finishing a chapter that I’ve been working on for a while. The new version is very different from all previous versions, which is both annoying and satisfying. And I made great progress on my screen door, which is getting close to being usable.

By the time you’re reading this, I will obviously have moved on, though (since I can’t post it until I do). I’m tempted to stay longer, but I don’t want to feel rushed on my way to the Grand Canyon, and my reservations are less than a week away. Six days, seven hundred miles: totally do-able, but not if I linger.

And I don’t want to base my driving decisions on speed. On my way here, I had to fight with my GPS to take the slow, scenic route, instead of the fast highway. I then ignored all sorts of roadside signs warning about construction and delays to stubbornly take Highway 89 around Lake Tahoe. It probably added at least a couple of hours to my drive, but the scenery along that road is gorgeous. It was so worth it. And earlier in the week, I drove on Route 1, down the Californian coastline — again, not the fast route, but wow, such a fun drive. I’m not sure Serenity was the best vehicle to be driving it with, but it was two-thumbs-up beautiful.

But I am feeling wistful about leaving. This feels like the kind of place where it would be nice to stay for days, to just settle in and write and think and breathe and be. Maybe next time!

Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area

The Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area is an odd place. And odd is a really vague adjective, but honestly, I’ve got no other. I don’t want to weigh it down with negative connotations, like weird or strange, and it’s not so different that it deserves to be called unusual. It’s just… odd.

I suspect it’s because where once there was a river, now there is dirt. There’s a sign that I should probably go take a picture of, because I have no scenic pictures to go with this post, that reads something like “Danger, Steep slope leads to deep water with strong current.” Um, no, it doesn’t. Yes, there’s a steep slope, but it leads to a ditch, with plants growing in it. The boat ramp is closed and there’s not even any evidence that it should or would have led to water. Not even puddles.

Meanwhile the campground is basically a deserted parking lot. A nice parking lot, though, with even paved sites, picnic tables, electric and water hook-ups, and plenty of trees. It was hot yesterday, but there was a cool breeze for most of the day, and I only ran the air conditioner for a little while in the afternoon.

Still, the emptiness and the pavement combine to give it a vaguely unsettling air. I could see it being a good setting for a horror movie. And, in fact, when I was walking the dog this morning I was headed down a path that seemed like an old road, asphalt cracked and broken, when I started telling myself stories about serial killers and deranged clowns, and wound up scaring myself into cutting my walk short. Note to self: scary stories are more fun behind locked doors.

I was thinking about being homesick this morning, though — homesick for a home I don’t have — when I realized that my feelings of homesickness have completely dissipated already, and it’s because of my nice campsite. When I’m in a campground, I tend to extend into the outside space. The plastic box containing my sewer hose gets stored outside, under the van, instead of on the bathroom floor. My chair gets set up by the door. Kitchen stuff, some of it, moves onto the picnic table.

Those few feet of outside space, probably especially in the bathroom, make Serenity feel more livable, more like home. It was a good realization. Of course, I still love camping in driveways, because it’s nice to visit people, but on my next extended driveway visit, wherever it is, I’m going to make more of an effort to feel less squashed in my lovely tiny house on wheels. And meanwhile, she’s feeling very cozy and homey today and I’m feeling pretty content with her. Just in time to pack up and move on!

Van Damme State Park

At Van Damme State Park in California, $45/night gets you a sloped campsite with no electric or water hookup, plus access to a shower that costs $1 for five minutes of water. I suppose I sort of get the shower thing as a method of water conservation — limiting the amount of water campers use is probably good for the environment. I still resented it, though. Seriously, $45 should get you a free shower.

That said, you do get the sound of the ocean. Admittedly, I kept waking up and being grumpy about being so close to a highway, and then having to remind myself that it was the ocean I was listening to, not the highway, but it was the ocean. And it smelled like ocean and pine trees and campfire smoke, which is a decidedly different and nicer fire scent than the wildfire scent that’s been so oppressive throughout my west coast travels.

Plus I got to meet @theroadtoadventure, aka Kate, who is on a quest to see all the national parks and monuments (443 of them), taking beautiful pictures along the way. Her van is extremely cool inside — she turned one bed into a desk space, and put a real mattress on the other — so we talked mods and campgrounds and places I should see.

And yesterday morning, I got to take the dogs to one last beach before I turned my back on the Pacific Ocean and headed inland. It was a rather seaweed-y, rocky beach, but we did enjoy it. Not as much as the beaches in Arcata, though.

dog at beach

B, wondering why we’re at the sandy place again. He’s not as much a fan of the beaches as Z is.

I’m pretty sure that some of my (I’m sure detectable) grumpiness is just reluctance to move on. It was probably a good thing that there was a nest of yellow jackets (hive?) right in the corner of the house by the side door of the van or S might have had an electric cord dangling out her kitchen window all winter long. I really liked Arcata.

Some of that, of course, was the company I was with. But we also had a really good time mixing tourism with domesticity. The grand plans we concocted when I arrived — of kayaking, cruises around the bay, maybe camping — did not all come to fruition. But we went to the beach a bunch of times; wandered around Eureka and ate oysters; visited the Trees of Mystery and admired the objects in the Native American museum there; saw Serenity in a movie theater; visited a friend’s photography exhibit; went to the farmer’s market… a good and busy set of tourist-type activities.

And we also cleaned out and organized her storage shed; cleaned out and organized her refrigerator and freezer; cleaned out and organized the wall of bookshelves in her living room. A few more days and I would have been painting her kitchen. And we cooked some delicious meals: pot roast, sautéed shrimp in summer rolls, sous vide steak. Plus shopped and did laundry and went to the thrift store… it felt very homey. I guess I understand why six weeks of feeling very at-home in other people’s homes has left me feeling a little homesick.

Or maybe worrying about R has just made me miss him. The good news is that he made it through Irma without excitement, although he did decide to evacuate Friday night. Is this ironic? He evacuated to Jacksonville, where the flooding was apparently much worse than it was in Sarasota. Oops. But it was still an enormous relief to me as the storm made its way up Florida to know that R was inland, not on the coast.

In other news… oh, so many things I want to remember, and of course none of them are coming back to me now that I’m sitting in front of my computer. I’m not a cat person, largely because I’m very, very allergic, but S has one that I developed a serious infatuation with. They call him Tank, but I was calling him Zen Kitty by the time I left. On the morning I left, I said goodbye to him, and he indicated that I was allowed to pet. I did, despite the whole “very, very allergic” thing, and his purr was a rumble like a massage chair, almost more felt than heard, but very solid and definite. I suspect Zen Kitty would be a good traveling cat: he seemed to take all things in stride. If he had a voice, I think he might sound like Morgan Freeman.

Another random memory: on the way to the photo exhibit, we stopped at a candy store. It had salt water taffy, which I don’t much like. But the sign by the counter of taffy intrigued me. I can’t recall the exact words, but it was a warning that the candy would taste salty. I bought five pieces. I put the first one — peppermint, I think — in my mouth and was transported back in time. It was my madeleine. A flood of memories, of my grandparents, of sitting in the backseat of the car with my siblings, of sand and salt water and the sound of the ocean… I ate all five pieces in about three minutes and if I ever pass by that store again, I will definitely be getting more. Turns out I do like saltwater taffy, just real saltwater taffy, the kind that actually has salt in it, the kind that tastes like the past.

And a sad one:

Catamaran after Irma

Sealandia didn’t make it through the storm

That’s the catamaran we sailed on during the Best Vacation Ever. She’s still floating, but the damage doesn’t look pretty. Looking at pictures of the British Virgin Islands is so sad. Some of the places that brought me so much joy just a few months ago are basically gone. And people will rebuild, of course. Five years, maybe ten years from now, there will be new places, shiny and fresh. But that doesn’t make the present moment any easier.

It feels wrong to end a post on a sad note: let’s see, homesick and grumpy and sad, this is not the most optimistic post I’ve ever written! But I’m actually doing well, grateful that everyone I know made it through Irma safely, and looking forward to my upcoming adventures. Tomorrow I’m headed to Lake Tahoe, and next week it’ll be the Grand Canyon. Finally!

But first, some time with Grace.

May your days be filled with boredom

Yesterday, I organized S’s pins (the sewing type, not jewelry) by color, in a rainbow of blue, yellow, green, red, white, silver, black. By this, I knew that I was feeling just a wee bit anxious. It was interesting to feel my tension drop as I did it — it was almost like meditating in the sense of peace that came over me as the pins found their proper places.

Of course, Logical Me knows that pins do not have to be organized by color and that the proper place for a pin is anywhere it can be found again, and where it’s not going to inadvertently wind up impaling a hand or a foot or a paw. But at the same time, it was soothing to impose order on the pins. Especially in a world where I can’t impose order on the weather.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the weather where I am. It’s actually been really nice — grey and foggy and cool, with invigorating breezes, just the temperature where a jacket and socks are cozy. But I’ve been worrying about Irma.

Or more to the point, I’m worrying about R. And the rest of my family and friends in Florida, but mostly R. He didn’t evacuate, which is… fine? He’s an adult, making the best choices he can, and I can understand why staying put seemed like the sensible decision. It’s not like he’s living in the Florida Keys or even in Miami, where staying put would have been crazy.

But he is on the coast.

And as of Friday night, Irma appears to be swinging in the direction of his coast.

These lines, from weather.com — “Recent trends in computer models and resulting forecast from the National Hurricane Center suggest Irma will now track a bit farther west. This does not reduce the threat to eastern Florida, but it could drastically increase the threat to the west coast of Florida if this trend continues.” — are not the kind of thing that gladdens a maternal heart.

Logical Me knows that there’s nothing I can do and really no point in hitting refresh on weather.com over and over again. The storm is going to hit when it hits and where it hits. Illogical Me is… anxious. And wishing for more pins to sort.

Instead, I shall go to sleep. And in the morning, I’ll visit the farmer’s market, buy some vegetables, cook something delicious, enjoy the company of my friends, and take a lot of deep breaths.

But to all of my Florida friends and readers — stay safe, stay dry, and may all your Irma stories be really, really boring!

One of Pam’s daughter’s prized possessions: a hall pass, given to R by his high school science teacher during the year he lived in Seattle. On the other side is a more formal pass. Apparently he was allowed to wander the hallways at will. S has kept the pass for the day she might be able to use it, too. It survived the room purge!

Arcata

In my vague mental plan, I was going to spend some time exploring Oregon this fall. Two things happened to change that plan: 1) Oregon, like far too much of the west, started burning down and 2) my friend Suzanne, who lives in northern CA, had a week off in early September.

I know the wildfires are sort of making the news, but at least in my window on the world, they seem to be overshadowed by politics and floods. And they’re not completely out of the norm: although 2017 is winning for number of fires, 2015 is still in the lead on acreage burned. Both years are statistically significantly higher than average, though, and more to the point, if you’re living in the smoke, the air quality is miserable. I can’t imagine how people with asthma are coping. It’s been years since I even owned an inhaler, but I felt the urge to reach for one through my entire drive through Oregon.

So instead of wandering around Oregon, I drove straight through, with a single, largely sleepless, night at a rest stop, notable only because it was my first ever night at a rest stop and my first chance to discover that rest stops are not very peaceful places to try to spend the night. It might be my last night at a rest stop, too.

I got to Arcata on Friday night. It was nothing like I expected. I knew it was a small town. I knew it was remote. I knew it was foggy a lot of the time, with year-round temperatures in the 50s and 60s. And I guess all of those things are true, but apart from the remote — yes, it was difficult to get to — it was still not what I expected.

It’s actually cute as anything, and not so small. Two bookstores, three movie theaters, multiple grocery stores and sushi restaurants, art galleries and housewares stores and furniture stores… I guess small is relative, but when I think of small, I picture southern small, where a single road has a gas station, a Dollar General, and a donut shop, and that’s considered a town. By that standard, Arcata is a city. But really, it’s the perfect small town from the “quirky town” trope. I saw the town square on Saturday morning, when I was walking Zelda, and immediately thought, “Stars Hollow, I am in Stars Hollow!”

On Saturday, S had to work, so I had a mostly quiet day — much needed after my long drives of the previous two days — hanging out at her house. At lunchtime, though, we met up at the local farmer’s market, held on the aforementioned town square, where I bought some corn & artichokes. But it was insanely hot. I say that as a Floridian. Insanely hot. I’d been promised cool weather and fog: instead I got bright sun, 97 degree temps, and smoke-filled air. The heat broke records, not just for the day but for the entire time temperatures have been measured here. I was very happy to get back to the relative cool of her house, where all the dogs (her two, my two) lay around and panted, while G (S’s husband) and I, sat on our computers, every once in a while saying, “Wow, it’s hot.”

The next morning, we went to the beach with all the dogs. It was glorious. Hot enough that shorts were fine, but with a cool breeze. The dogs were allowed off-leash and three of them ran around like puppies, while even B managed a good long walk and a lot of sniffing at interesting smells. Z chased sticks and splashed into the water and smiled happy dog smiles. Once they were tired out, S and I went to a local fish market and picked up some fresh rockfish, then stopped at a local artisan’s market and admired art and had interesting conversations about the age of some beautiful polished stones turned into jewelry. One green stone, kambaba jasper, was, according to the seller, 3 billion year old fossilized algae from Africa, and a purple stone was charoite from Russia. (Yep, I’m writing that down so that I remember it later.) That evening, instead of having our rockfish, we wound up going out for sushi.

Yesterday, I made us breakfast in the morning, of sautéed carrots, beets, bacon, and sweet potato (previously cooked sous vide, so quick to sauté), over arugula, topped with a soft-boiled egg and some fresh parsley and cilantro. It was heavy on the beets, but really pretty good. I still haven’t mastered sous vide eggs, though. Then we went to the redwoods and wandered up a trail for a while.

four dogs on a trail

The pack in the redwoods

Our walk was pretty short, because the hills were a little much for B. I probably should have left him at home. I wound up carrying him, but an uphill hike carrying a wiggly dog was a little much for me, too. Next we went looking for wild blackberries, and found plenty. We came back to the house, went down the street to a “block party” fundraiser, ate some delicious albacore for lunch, put some bids in on the silent auction, ate dessert — a gluten-free apple muffin for me — and then came back to the house and got to work.

First, we baked. I made blackberry crisp and Suzanne made blackberry calzone (pie without the pie pan). Next, I prepped baked artichokes with onion, lemon, mint, and olives, one of my favorite recipes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

After that, we seriously got to work. S and G have a storage shed in the back of their house and I think my Seattle efforts inspired S. The shed was (is) stuffed to the ceiling with boxes and bags and furniture and miscellaneous objects of more-or-less emotional significance. We started pulling things out, piling them up in the yard, trying to sort them, with the aim of turning the storage shed into more usable space by emptying out some room. By the end of the day, we’d definitely made the space more accessible, but since neither S nor G really want to get rid of anything, I think the shed will be staying pretty full. But at least they can get to the boxes if they want them now.

a shed with open floor space

Usable enough that the dog approved.

This morning, S and I headed off to the beach again, bright and early. We were on our way home by 9, so I think we probably got there around 8. It was a different beach, but even more wonderful — big and wide and empty and just a little foggy. I think a lot of people think of beaches as places to go to sit in the sun, but I’m never really interested in sitting on a beach, nor do I much want to go into the ocean. I like watching the waves and taking long walks. On this beach, we could have walked forever if we’d left B at home. He was a trouper, though. He probably walked a solid mile, which is a long, long way for a small dog in congestive heart failure.

Since then, I have been writing and S has been working on her storage shed. But I am about to finish this blog post and drag her away, so that we can go visit the nearest big town, aka Eureka. Yes, Eureka. I seriously hope there’s a nice town sign that I can take a picture of myself by, because it amuses me to no end that I am so close to a town named like one so dear to my heart.

In one final note, I’m really surprised by how much I like Arcata. It wasn’t actually on my list of places that I was thinking about for possible future long-term living, but it has not only joined that list, it’s jumped pretty close to the top. I could see living here. Not in S’s driveway, which sees/hears foot traffic all night long, and not in S’s storage shed, despite its resemblance to a cute tiny house, but it’s a lovely small town. However, that’s a thought for some time far in the future. For today, I should get back to writing Grace, so I can do some more playing later!

Best of August 2017

Today is not the best day of August.

I’m packing up to move on today, after spending almost the entire past month in Seattle. I’m ready to get going in lots of ways — driveway living is only fun for a little while and then campgrounds, with outside space and water hookups and quieter nature sounds, start to seem quite appealing.

But it has been so lovely to slip into my friend Pam’s life for a little while. I haven’t felt like a guest here or even really a visitor and it definitely hasn’t felt like twenty years since we lived in the same city. Instead, I just sort of moved in. I rearranged her kitchen to suit my needs, I established the place on the sofa where I sit when I’m writing in her living room, I left my toiletries in her shower. We’ve gone grocery shopping together, walked our dogs, done laundry… lived life.

Of course, we’ve also done things. We saw a bear (woo-hoo, my first bear!) at Stevens Pass; we camped together at Lake Ozette, including a lovely seven mile hike to the beach and back; we kayaked on Lake Washington; we floated at Green Lake. Well, she paddled on a paddleboard, but I just floated with the dogs.

Picture of me on a raft with the dogs.

Me, floating with the dogs. B is wearing his life preserver, and the raft was very, very slowly sinking. It was lovely.

It hasn’t been the most adventurous month: I stayed in a grand total of five places, and really spent the majority of the month in her driveway. But not every month needs grand adventure.

For the “best of” moment, though, my winner came early: on August 4th, P and R and I were camping at Lake Ozette. Earlier in the day, P and I had taken our long walk to the beach, through beautiful woods, with truly perfect weather. It was gorgeous clear blue skies and sunshine and cool foggy breeze at the beach. Not too hot, not too cold. It was the first time in years that we’d been alone together for any extended period, and our conversation never stopped. P nearly stepped on a snake; we saw deer up close and a bald eagle in the distance.

It was a glorious day. But none of that was what made it the best of August, because that alone would have had some tough competition with the eclipse/bear day. No, what made it the best was at dinner that night. Over grilled sausages, corn-on-the-cob, and salad, the subject of P’s snoring came up. I think I said, perhaps sounding aggrieved, that her snoring wasn’t a problem, it was the not-breathing anymore that was ruining my sleep, and R took that cue and ran with it. By the time he’d finished his extremely calm discourse about how when they’d camped together earlier in the summer, he’d concluded that she was dead, and begun coming to terms with the next steps that he was going to have to take, the practical decisions involved in a tragic untimely death at a music festival, all before her next inhale, I was in tears and P couldn’t speak from laughing so hard. It doesn’t sound funny, I know, but it was. I laughed so hard it hurt.

I don’t know when the three of us will get to go camping together again and I really hope that the next time it’ll be the four of us, including P’s daughter, too (she was at camp). But even if that doesn’t happen anytime soon, I will remember Lake Ozette with pleasure, and am so, so grateful that my fast trek across the country brought me to that place and moment. (And P called a doctor for sleep apnea as soon as we got back to the city.)

I’m not sure what September is going to bring — definitely another driveway, since I’m headed to my friend Suzanne’s now. And hopefully lots of writing. My current version of Grace has taken some unexpected turns, which I guess is good news? It’s interesting, anyway. But Seattle has been a wonderful place to hang out and I’m already looking forward to coming back!

My future career

After I re-organized her kitchen, my friend Pam offered to pay me to help her daughter (S) with her room. I wasn’t so sure about being paid — free parking space, laundry facilities, use of the shower & occasional meals worked for me — but I said sure, I’d be happy to help S. Then I took a closer look at her room.

messy room

a messy closet

Not even sure if she could get to her closet, much less use it.

It wasn’t the messiest room I’d ever seen, but it was pretty impressive. Some of the chaos was stuff that her mom had moved into her room after cleaning the living room while S was away at camp, so she hadn’t been living in it like that, but it wasn’t a one-day sort of mess. It was the type of mess that was going to require an even bigger mess in transition.

So last week, while S was still away, I tackled the first part of the job: organizing stuff.

a messy bed, piled high

Everything soft went onto the bed.

stuff to be sorted

Stuff to be sorted in boxes and piled high.

I wound up with boxes of stuff that I thought should probably get thrown away — lots of plastic stuff, even more old school books, worn out art supplies, and so on. Also stuff that I thought was probably ready to be donated — anything that a 14-year old had probably outgrown, from clothes to toys. Everything else was sorted: books, art supplies, stuffed animals, dolls, clothes, hats, jewelry, scarves, head bands, knick-knacks, electronics, games, photos, miscellaneous stuff.

When S got home, on Monday, we got to work. We tackled one corner at a time, one set of stuff at a time. We set aside a plastic crate for nostalgia items — things she wanted to keep but didn’t need to have out. Then we looked at and considered every object in her room: did she need it, did she want it, did it bring her joy, was she ready to let go of it? If she was keeping it, where did it belong? Where would she look for it when she needed it?

A neat book case

Books, art supplies, a few knick knacks in a new corner of the room. Yes, the books are in alphabetical order.

A reasonably neat closet.

The half of the closet that can’t be seen is full of boxes for an eventual garage sale, but this half has shoes and outside gear, including bags, organized by type.

A clear dresser top

This side of the room wound up looking a little barren, but I’m sure it’s a transitory state. The white shelving unit will eventually go, when she gets a new bed.

An empty floor.

Zelda, admiring the empty floor space. Well, probably not really. She might be wondering where the cushions went.

This is not actually my future career. I think I’m probably too allergic to dust to make a life out of clearing out rooms. But it was very fun and very satisfying!