Caesar Creek State Park, Wilmington, OH

I have so very many things I want to blog about. So very many!

Random thoughts:

Highway rest stops must be like art galleries for dogs: so many interesting smells, such fascinating traces of other dogs and people, so rich with the canine version of color. And possibly over-stimulating? B has to stop every two inches for the first ten feet and then he’s all, “No more, no more, I must take a nap. Immediately.” And Z wants to smell ALL the smells, every last inch of grass. It does not make for fun walks.

Illinois has a seriously annoying toll system. Every ten miles or so, you have to pay another $1.50 or $2 or even $3. I’m sure it’s fine for the people who live there and whizz through on their e-passes, but at 5AM, only one cash booth was open at every stop and it always had a line of five or six cars in it. It was actually sort of stressful to be hunting for money in that line, knowing that the people behind me just wanted to get going.

Wisconsin has gorgeous wildflowers happening right now. Lovely and colorful, deep yellows, light blues, waves of lavender. Not literal lavender, I don’t think, but that color of light purple. I, of course, can’t tell you what any of them are, but I think some of the deep yellows were brown-eyed Susans.

Ending the random thoughts:

I spent the weekend at Caesar Creek State Park in Wilmington, OH. It is not a park that I will be returning to. It contains the dubious distinction of having the worst showers of any that I actually used within my first year of van life. Apart from that, I think it’s probably a really nice place to stay if you have big water toys to play with — motor boats, wave runners, that kind of thing. For me, it was just a vaguely pleasant, grassy parking lot near a place where my friend E was visiting for work. But the trails were too muddy to appreciate; the weather was either sweltering hot or raining; and the sites didn’t have water hook-ups, which was inconvenient — especially because the showers were not cool. Literally, in the case of one of them, which was jammed on a temp of “fill the entire bathroom with steam.”

Due to circumstances beyond our control, our time together was cut a little short and E was without a car, so instead of most of a weekend with easy and flexible transportation, we had 24 hours in Serenity. It was much fun nonetheless, but mostly revolved around food. And washing dishes. And then more food. And more washing dishes. The effort of washing dishes is much more noticeable when you’re carrying the water from a faucet several campsites away.

Anyway, Saturday night was grilled asparagus with lime, and sous vide steak, followed by spice cake with pecans. Sunday: blueberries, bananas, and chocolate granola; spicy sweet potato hash with poached eggs; arugula and mixed greens salad with cold shrimp, pea pods, radishes, cucumbers, avocado, and a spicy chili-garlic salad dressing.

The sous vide steak was good, but maybe not as good as I expected it to be — perhaps a fault of the cook, I will definitely try again. The asparagus was great; the hash was yum; and the spicy salad dressing was delicious. I’m going to make an appetizer of a radish slice, topped with a thin slice of avocado, a cold shrimp, and a drizzle of chili garlic sauce, because those bites of salad were so very, very good. And I do wonder why the world doesn’t contain more spicy salad dressings? It really worked so well with all the cold crunchy things, i.e. the pea pods and radishes and shrimp.

Anyway, due to said circumstances, I wound up giving E a ride to her hotel around 6 Sunday evening. Of course, moving Serenity means packing up and because the rain had been on and off, but it was temporarily dry, I decided to pack everything up rather than risk it getting wet again. But then on the drive I realized that I was headed 35 minutes west of the campground. Did it really make sense to go east again, to spend the night at Caesar Creek? My plan had been to leave early this morning, starting at 8 or so, and drive as long as I could last. Destination, the Badlands of South Dakota, 18 hours away.

I worried at the thought for most of the drive, then while E went into Target to pick up some stuff she needed, I consulted my map. And after I dropped her off at her hotel, I started driving.

Last night — the second-to-last night of Year One in Serenity, I slept at a Flying J gas station in Indiana, adding one more state to my total — 19 states, 74 places, and 3 parking lots.

Tonight — the very last night of Year One in Serenity, I will either be sleeping in Minnesota or South Dakota, adding another state to the total. I suspect it’s going to be in Minnesota, because instead of driving, I’m sitting in a highway rest stop on the Wisconsin – Minnesota border, writing a blog post. It would take me 4.5 hours or so to get across Minnesota, I think, and given that I started driving at 5, I think I’m probably not going to make it that far. My goal, though, is to get the total driving time to Mount Rushmore to be under 6 hours. And I’m not quite sure, but I think it might be perfectly do-able. Which would mean tomorrow, on the actual anniversary of the day I closed on my house and started driving north, I’ll finally be at one of the destinations I was aiming for. And it only took a year!

The Mississippi River, as seen from Minnesota

Sous vide spicy sockeye salmon

I was texting a friend recently, making plans to meet up with her in August to go camping together, and she wrote, “I can practice my cast iron pot campfire skills.”

I responded, “Or we can use my perfectly good propane stove. Or my microwave.”

Or my grill.

Or my induction cooktop.

Or my InstaPot.

Or, now, my new favorite toy, my sous vide precision cooker.

And yes, I do think it’s a little crazy that I live in a van and carry more cooking devices than outlets to power them. (Not literally true, by the way, Serenity has plenty of outlets!) But more cooking devices than surface areas to put them, maybe? Certainly more kitchen stuff than room to store it all: over the past year, the kitchen and pantry have gradually crept from the obvious space — the compartments over the stove and the drawers under the microwave — to take up almost the entire wall of compartments on the driver’s side, plus some room under the bed, plus some room in the space over the cab, plus some floor space, too.

No regrets, though. Last night’s dinner was a spicy wild sockeye salmon over brown rice with a salad of arugula, avocado, fresh peas, radish, and cucumber with balsamic.

salmon and salad

Not the greatest picture, but it was dark and rainy, so the light wasn’t great.

The salmon was sous vide cooked at 115 for 30 minutes, which felt a little underdone to me, but tasted incredible. When I was done, I used the warm water from the sous vide pan — completely clean, since the food was cooked in a ziplock bag — to wash the dishes. This morning (and last night, too) there was no smell of fish in the van, despite the fact that rain meant that I’d had to keep the van closed up during the night. YAY!

The recipe I read from the Anova app (where I got the timing and temp) said not to use acidic or chunky ingredients, because they would damage the shape and texture of the fish. I read that and promptly ignored it, putting about a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce into the bag with the fish. It was not as pretty as it might have been if I’d gone with the suggested dill, but wow, it tasted great. Sous vide cooking is supposed to infuse the food with flavor and yeah, it works.

The salmon was on sale at CostCo, which means I’ll be having lots more opportunities to practice my sous vide cooking skills this week, but that’s not a problem. I’m writing this at 9:20 AM and already looking forward to my lunch leftovers. And fortunately, salmon is thin enough to easily fit into Serenity’s freezer.

I do look at that picture and think, “you’re eating sockeye salmon and arugula, no wonder your grocery budget is out of control.” But the salmon cost about $3.50/serving, the arugula probably .50, the other ingredients in total maybe $1.50/serving, which all adds up to a cheaper meal than a Chipotle burrito or a Big Mac meal at McDonald’s. (I had to google the latter — it’s been so long!)

In other news, I’m in Ohio. It’s rainy. I’m starting to wonder if life in Florida and California has just really skewed my perceptions of how often it’s supposed to rain. Maybe the rest of the world really does have rain every day? Campgrounds in PA and OH don’t seem to include water hook-ups with their electric sites — maybe that’s because they think you can just stick a bucket outside and have it fill up overnight? But the grass is very green and pretty, and it’s so hot that the rain feels nice.

Lesson learned this morning, though: if you’re enjoying walking in the rain with the hood of your jacket down, perhaps roll the hood up or tuck it inside the coat to prevent it from filling with water? I wouldn’t call it an unpleasant surprise, exactly, but when I decided I’d had enough of the rain on my head and pulled my hood up, I splashed myself with all the water that had filled the hood while it was down. Ha.

Last night I reread everything I’d written on Grace so far and decided it was all an incoherent mess. Before I threw the whole thing away, though, I decided that maybe I was just tired. Reread it this morning and yep, I was just tired. Whew. For a lot of reasons, what I should really be doing right now is finding myself a place to sit and write without any distractions at all — no family or friends to visit, no beaches to roam, no interesting meals to cook. Actually, “a lot of reasons” boils down to “finances.”

But I’m not going to. The aforementioned friend is a single parent with a real job, and limited time. I’ve got a chance to go camping with her and I’m going to take it. Which means I’m about to embark on an epic cross-country drive to get to Seattle by early August. I might be making poor life choices. But when I run out of savings, maybe I can find a job as a cook. Although if I did that, I suppose I’d have to care about whether the salmon looked as pretty as it would with dill…

Serenity’s First Year in Numbers

In 18 states and two territories (one American and one British), I stayed in 73 different places:

    25 state parks
    13 driveways
    12 Thousand Trails campgrounds
    4 independent campgrounds
    4 Passport America campgrounds
    2 KOA campgrounds
    2 Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds
    2 parking lots
    2 hotels
    2 houses
    1 Lower Colorado River Authority Park
    1 USDA Forest Service campground
    1 county park
    1 Harvest Hosts site
    … and one sailboat

I definitely got my money’s worth from my Thousand Trails membership. I think my total spent is currently about $550 for about 80 days, so roughly $7/night. But I’m not going to be renewing it when it expires next year: those campgrounds seem like good places for families with small kids and people who are looking for stable bases for extended periods, but that’s not how I want to travel or live.

My KOA membership was not worth the money. Again, great for families with kids and I definitely enjoyed my really nice showers at the KOA in Bellefonte, PA, but I don’t need the amenities they offer and even with the reduced membership rate, they were some of the most expensive places I stayed.

My one night at a Harvest Host site was lovely and I remember it fondly. But I don’t tend to want to drop in to places for a single night. If that changes in the future, I might think about trying out Harvest Hosts again, but for the moment, I’ll let that membership lapse.

Passport America costs around $45/year and I bought a three-year membership, so I’ve got plenty of time for it to pay off. In fact, the park at which I’m currently staying is both a state park and a Passport America park, and I saved $14 on an upcoming night’s stay because of my PA membership, so yay. But I’ve got a pretty long way to go before that membership pays for itself and two of the parks on the PA list were among my least favorite of the places I’ve stayed so I don’t seek out the PA parks. I should check out more of them, though, because it’s a nice discount when the park is okay.

Generally speaking, the only worthwhile memberships for me were the state parks. I’ve got a Texas State Park pass and a Georgia State Park pass and they were very much worth the money, might even be more so, since I’ve got months left on both. Live and learn, right?

I can’t believe I haven’t stayed in a single national park — what kind of camper am I??? — but they’re typically more restrictive about dogs than state parks, and I’ve really quite enjoyed discovering the state parks. Still, that might be a goal for Year Two. 🙂

I budgeted $900/month for campground charges, figuring an average of $30/night. If I stayed at KOAs and independent campgrounds or even some of the more expensive state parks, I’d be breaking that budget on a regular basis. As it is, however, my blend of campgrounds and driveways kept me under budget every month. The closest I came was $826 in April, from paying for my two week stay at Cedar Key in May.

I budgeted $400/month for gas and fuel (propane, too) and I came in under budget on that, as well. My grocery budget, though… yeah, not so good. Eating the way I eat — heavy on vegetables and protein, almost non-existent on breads, pasta, grains — is not cheap. Now that I can’t buy in bulk and store leftovers in my freezer, I’m spending more on food than I want to.

The dogs were also way over budget. No surprise, there, but ouch. Having two aging dogs is not the kind of thing where you want to look at the dollars. Even hiding some of their food costs in my grocery budget, I spent over $300/month on the dogs. I’d budgeted $90. Yep, the dogs cost $10/day.

Health insurance and care, internet, auto and RV insurance, the storage unit, taxes… none of those were surprising numbers to me, although they do add up. Life in the van is definitely less expensive than it was in my house, but I really had hoped I’d have a book or two released by now, though, so that’s not so good.

But there, another goal for Year Two — publish books! And visit national parks. And continue spending ridiculous amounts of money on the dogs, because really, the only way that number goes down is bad, so the positive side of breaking my budget on pet care is definitely that I have two dogs that I adore still and that’s good news.

Speaking of which, I am out of dog food, so need to make a run to a grocery store, unfortunately half an hour away. Time to get going!

KOA Bellefonte, PA

bathroom picture

I am not going to start posting pictures of bathrooms, but the KOA I’m staying at has the nicest bathrooms of any campground I have ever seen. Better even than a lot of hotels I’ve stayed at. Each bathroom is an individual room, not a stall, with good water pressure and plenty of hot water. And they’re gender neutral, which makes so much sense to me. In fact, now that I’m writing about it, I sort of want to go take another shower, just to take advantage.

If I had kids with me, I’d also want to take advantage of the pool, the water play area, the playground, the in-ground trampoline-like thing, the sandbox, the mineral mining play station, and maybe even the volleyball court.

pool and water play area

The colorful posts in the background spray water during the day.

mining play structure

You buy a bag of dirt at the camp store and then filter it using the gold mining pans and water. No promise of gold, but the dirt contains colorful rocks and fossils.

Since I have no kids with me… well, if there were less expensive campground options that were equally close to my aunt and uncle’s place, I’d probably go for one of them. But this is a very nice campground, and I have a great campsite. If I had a big vehicle, I’d be annoyed by how un-level my site is — it’s got a fair amount of slope — but it works fine for Serenity. And it’s tucked into a nice, private back corner, so dark that last night while I was falling asleep, I was counting stars (lots of them) and watching fireflies.

Bald Eagle State Park

Bald Eagle state park lake view

Sunrise over the lake

I spent one night at Bald Eagle State Park, and I would happily have stayed there longer. Good walks, good sites, and a great feel to it. It feels very Californian of me to say that it just had good energy, but it did. The campground was almost full, but it didn’t feel crowded, it felt happy. I could smell the smoke from people’s campfires at dawn, because people were really camping there. It wasn’t a parking lot, it was a vacation.

I did very little there: rolled in around 3PM on a day hot enough that I needed to run the AC for the dogs, so I took a couple nice low-energy walks in late afternoon and evening, then a longer walk at dawn the next morning, worked on Grace, then headed out by 10AM to visit my aunt and uncle.

My aunt and I had a nice day wandering around State College, visiting the ArtsFest and the BookFest and the arboretum. (Best part: the arboretum, it’s the perfect time of year to admire plants, and I should have taken more pictures!) I’ll be here in their driveway for a couple of days, with ambitious plans to bake granola, see how my Amazon Prime Day toy works, and keep working on Grace. And, of course, have fun spending time with relatives I don’t see nearly often enough!

Black Moshannon State Park

Black Moshannon State Park

An ocean of ferns

Bugs.

Allergies.

Rain.

No internet or cell connection, except for fleeting moments of a moving Verizon signal that disappears almost immediately.

No water at the campsite.

Ten miles up a steep and winding road, away from grocery stores and other conveniences.

At $31/night, not cheap. In fact, by my standards, reasonably expensive.

And did I mention the bugs? Not just mosquitoes and ticks, but these incredibly annoying buzzing flies that dive bomb my head, seeming to try to get into my ears. I told myself I was being unduly paranoid, that it was just the way they fly, but after multiple unpleasant walks, really, I think they’re trying to get into my ears. They are madly annoying!

Speaking of paranoia, based mostly on the posted signs, I’ve been worried about four things here.

In order of probability:

    1) Poison ivy
    2) Lyme disease
    3) Someone scolding me for walking my dog in the wrong place
    4) Encountering a black bear

In order of danger/potential damage:

    1) Lyme disease
    2) Encountering a black bear
    3) Poison ivy
    4) Someone scolding me for walking my dog in the wrong place

In order of how much I’ve worried:

    1) Someone scolding me for walking my dog in the wrong place
    … tied for a distant 2nd, poison ivy, Lyme disease, black bears.

Seriously, sometimes my brain annoys me. I suppose it’s good that I’m not obsessing on black bears, but the posted pet rules say there are off-limit areas for pets. The only one I’ve seen is the playground. On every walk, between trying to wave off bugs and cover my ears, I’ve wondered whether I’ve missed a sign and some ranger is going to appear out of nowhere and tell me I shouldn’t be where I am. And if one did? So what! It’s not like it would result in days of itching or emergency room visits or a life-changing, debilitating illness. And yet… I worry anyway. What a waste of energy.

The park is actually beautiful. The campground is thoroughly forested, the kind of place where you can easily envision black bears and other wildlife happily roaming. A short walk away, there’s a dark lake with a sandy beach and a swimming area marked with buoys. Kayak rentals are $12/hour, $10 if you pay cash. On my first day here, I thought it would be a great place to bring my niece next summer, but then the bugs started attacking and I thought better of it. But I do think in a different mood or in a different time of year, I’d like this place a lot more. Maybe just a better bug repellent would do it.

And the campsites are nice — flat, graveled, spacious, with trees separating one from the next. Mid-week, even in July, it’s pretty empty. I can see another camper from my spot, but just one. I’ve got no next-door or across-the-road neighbors. Clean showers, with lots of hot water and great water pressure.

But the best part of it, for me, has been hours spent seriously working on Grace. Rainy days + unpleasant walks + no internet = plenty of time spent staring at the computer screen. I haven’t yet admitted to you, oh darling readers, that at the end of June I went back to the beginning and started over, (I know, I know), but I have a solid first three chapters on this fresh start now. I’ve also written probably several thousand words that I won’t be using, but they answer questions and fix the plot holes that have nagged at me for years. It feels like progress and even if it’s not really progress, it feels like satisfying work. Yes, someday I’d like all this work to actually produce a product that will earn me some money, but it feels good to be immersed in the story anyway.

And now back to it!

Duck, North Carolina

I’ve been meaning to blog every day this week. In fact, I think I’ve started a post every morning! But something always gets in the way and the something is always really nice. That’s because I’m currently on a family vacation in Duck, North Carolina, with my brother, SIL, niece, nephew, and SIL’s aunt and uncle. My SIL’s sister is supposed to be here, too, but she hasn’t made it yet. Maybe later today. Plus, my stepsister and her family live nearby, and my dad and stepmom are staying with them, so I’m being very sociable.

beach with bird

The house we’re staying at is easy walking distance to a very nice beach and equally easy walking distance to an extremely cute town with a great boardwalk. It has a swimming pool, plus three sides with sometimes-sunny balconies. I’ve got about a zillion pictures of gorgeous beach skies that I could post, plus almost as many appealing food photos. Well, okay, maybe not a zillion food photos.

And if you’re not interested in food, you can probably skip the rest of this post! I’ve been doing the cooking, which has, of course, been very fun for me. I was going to just write about my favorite meal, but then I couldn’t decide which one it was. But for my own future reference, here’s what we ate:

On our first night, I grilled chicken marinated in yogurt and garlic and honey, and served it with quinoa mixed with goat cheese and green onion. We also had a raw veggie tray that included red, yellow, and orange peppers, radishes, broccoli, carrots, pea pods, and cherry tomatoes.

On our second night, we had flank steak, corn-on-the-cob, roasted potatoes, and green salad. I also made two appetizers: quinoa cheese puffs, served with sour cream; and caprese skewers, i.e. a cherry tomato, basil, and mozzarella on a toothpick, topped with a balsamic reduction.

On the 4th of July, we went to my stepsister’s house for burgers and hot dogs. I brought a chick pea salad with cherry tomatoes, parsley, and a honey vinaigrette; a quinoa salad with red onion, black beans, corn, cilantro, and a yogurt-based dressing; deviled eggs; and some more of the caprese skewers. Oh, and a blueberry-covered goat cheese, with gluten-free crackers.

On Wednesday, we ate grilled pork chops with a garlic-mint-salt rub; roasted potatoes; salad of mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, and goat cheese with a balsamic fig vinaigrette; and the leftover quinoa and chickpea salads. Appetizer of crackers, goat cheese, and fig spread.

Thursday night, we had make-your-own tacos with possible fillings of shredded chicken cooked with salsa, flank steak, grilled pork, black beans, red onions, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, sour cream, and shredded cheese. Oh, and I made a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and a reduction of the balsamic fig vinaigrette. And I made a tray of nachos, too. That was meant to be an appetizer, but it didn’t really work out that way.

tacos

Today I’ll be making some vegan chili and some gluten-free cornbread and we’ll finish off some of the salads. And I think maybe I’ll make the quinoa cheese puffs again, although we’re out of shredded cheese. But I’d like some shredded cheese for the chili, so I guess I’m headed off to the store.

Every day has been busy. I’ve gone to the beach every day, most often with Zelda, but once with both dogs, and once entirely sans dogs, which was fun because I got to actually go swimming and the water was perfect. There was a parade on the 4th, live music last night, outings for ice cream more than once. I’ve wandered around the town with my brother, my father, and my SIL, all on separate occasions. I’ve floated in the pool, and I’ve also played in the pool. My nephew and I were having float races yesterday, including one where we were each holding a dog and I laughed so hard I almost fell into the water. Lots of walking, lots of water, lots of sun, lots of cooking, lots of family. Not a lot of time for blogging or writing, but that’s okay — next week I’ll be back at it!

This week has been golden, glorious summer. And now it’s time to go swim!

Best of June 2017

I’ve only been in three spots this month: the garden house, NYC, and Frances Slocum State Park. Although technically, I’ve spent a few nights in my brother’s guest bedroom when it has been just too hot to stay in Serenity, so maybe that’s a fourth spot. Either way, picking a “Best of” place is impossible, because each was great in different ways.

NYC was a terrific tourist weekend. It didn’t feel like real life at all, and I didn’t try to get any work done — we just touristed hard. If I was judging the best of the month based only on being a tourist (well, and maybe on the deliciousness of the food I was eating), New York would have to win. But Frances Slocum was time hanging out with my niece, and I so adore her — she’s great company. And then the garden house has been a delightful place to spend time.

Hmm, I think I need to try a different approach to my best of this month. Instead of best place, best moments:

  • Picking blueberries with my brother in companionable silence.
  • Talking to my niece about friendship and names and shoe fashions.
  • Playing video games, specifically Skyforge, with my nephew.
  • Watching my friend completely geek out about classic cars in NYC.
  • Watching the fireflies at the garden house.

I’m not sure those are in the right order, but they’re the moments I hope I remember from June of 2017.

Happy Birthday, Serenity

A Winnebago Travato

Serenity at the garden house

Technically, of course, the van’s birthday must be a couple months ago. She would have been built in Iowa, shipped to Florida, and she sat on the dealer’s lot for at least a couple of weeks before I signed the papers. But one year ago today was the day she came home with me.

Of course, pretty much the very next day, I brought her straight back to the dealer and said, “Um, I don’t think water is supposed to pour in through the roof when it rains,” but that’s neither here nor there.

It would still be close to another month before I closed on my house and started traveling, but here’s what I’ve learned in my first year of #vanlife.

1) Temperature control is a perpetual challenge. It easily gets about ten degrees hotter inside the van than it is outside, which is lovely when it’s 60 degrees outside and not fun at all when it’s 80 degrees outside. I’ve learned some tricks — always put the window covers up and the shades down, close the bathroom doors when the AC is on — but long-term, I also need to invest in some curtains to close off the cab and some USB fans to improve air flow. And I need to plan my travels better so I can avoid places/times where the heat is dangerous for the dogs.

2) Campgrounds are dirty. The dogs don’t care. I do. I’m getting better at acceptance, but clean sheets have become a luxurious treat.

3) I don’t need much stuff, but the stuff I do own grows to fill the available room. It feels like a continual process of pruning. I did expect by this time that all the vintage china I was traveling with would have broken and I’d be needing new dishes, but not so much. I think I broke one plate and a bowl, and I definitely gave away a few dishes to empty out the cupboards, but the china has worked out otherwise. I like it very much.

4) I also expected that my eating habits would change, but I didn’t know how. It turns out that I eat a lot of cold, fairly simple food — roast beef rolled up with arugula, turkey topped with artichoke spread, that kind of thing. Also, a lot more eggs. But the longer I live in the van, the less limited I feel about what I can cook. I’m not sure I could do a Thanksgiving dinner — it would have to be a pretty small turkey, and the scheduling involved in serving all the food hot would be tough to pull off — but short of that, I could probably cook some serious meals. If I wasn’t worried about heating up the van, that is.

5) Time flies by when you’re living in a van. I really can’t believe it’s been a year. I thought back then that by now I might have figured out where I want to live and be ready to settle down somewhere — a year sounds like plenty of time to be living on the road, doesn’t it? — but I’m nowhere close. I’ve enjoyed my month of mostly sitting still, but I’m looking forward to many more of my cautious adventures.

I guess I don’t have any particularly profound insights. A few more: birds are cool and worth watching; I like sunrises better than sunsets; grocery stores are pretty much the same across the country; and I should stop waiting to do things (like put up curtains) with the idea that I’ll do them when I get “home” because I am home.

Okay, one insight (still not terribly profound, I expect): a year ago, I plunged into the unknown. I was excited and I was scared. I scurried around with lists and to-do items and schedules and structure to try to cope with the vast looming uncertainties. I avoided thinking too far ahead even as I contemplated destinations like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. I was sure that there would be good parts and bad parts, and I tried not to focus too much on the possibility of the bad parts. In fact, when I made the decision, I wrote, “But ten years from now, I want to look back and think, “Wow, you might have been crazy, but you sure were brave.”

I wasn’t crazy. This journey, this life, this year has been amazing. It’s not always comfortable and it’s not always easy and yes, stuff has gone wrong and there have been some bad days along the way, but the good has so outweighed the bad.

My aunt sent me a quote this week with a note that said, “This is you.” The quote was from Howard Thurman, who wrote: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Yes.

I didn’t know a year ago that that’s what I was doing, and that this journey would be as much about celebrating my breakfast every morning and walking three miles a day as it would be about visiting national parks — well, actually more about the former, since I have yet to set foot in a single national park, ha — but yes. Letting go of my house and my stuff and my routine has been like waking up to a life of wonder and appreciation.

It wasn’t the best decision of my life (which is an honor forever and always reserved to my response when faced with an unplanned, terribly-timed pregnancy), but it comes really, really close.

So, yeah, Happy Birthday, Serenity! May we celebrate many more together.

The garden house

Still at the garden house, still writing, still frustrated with Noah. I pulled out all the chapters from his point-of-view and read them in order, trying to decide whether his characterization works to lead him to the actions that he simply will not take in the chapter I’m trying to write. They don’t, not quite, and I found lots of things to change, so I’m working on some revisions. But it feels like progress, so that’s good, even if it’s still not finalizing a first draft.

I had an enormously complicated dream last night, the kind with lots of characters, lots of confusing activity, and all the feels. Mostly it felt stressful and worrying, not quite a nightmare, but closing in on one. Toward the end of the dream, I had to choose the right pair of shoes from a pile of them, all impractical. I knew I had to find a pair that fit right, that would be comfortable for lots of walking as we escaped from whatever disaster we were escaping from, but I had to hurry. So I grabbed a pair, hoping for the best, and headed toward the place where I was meeting the people I would try to escape with. On the way, I passed through a ballroom, crowded with boxes and bags and piles of luggage. There was a guy there, dressed like a workman. He had a Jamaican accent and gold teeth and he said to me, with a bright smile, “Those shoes are made for dancing.” I said, “Is that an invitation?” He said, “Of course,” and held out his arms, so I stepped into them and danced with him. For the first moment, I was stiff and tense, and then I relaxed and let him whirl me around the room, closing my eyes and trusting that he wouldn’t let me stumble or trip. He didn’t. It felt like floating.

When I woke up, I was smiling. I am pretty sure the message from my subconscious is to stop worrying about getting the right shoes (i.e., making exactly the right choices) and to relax and dance. Good job, subconscious. It has definitely made for a lovelier Monday morning.

Bedroom with sloped ceiling

My imaginary future bedroom

Just one of the reasons why I would have to write a lot of successful books before my imaginary future bedroom could become mine.

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