Fourth of July moments

I had a rather delightful 4th of July. It started, really, on the 3rd of July when instead of writing with my friend Joyce, which we do most Wednesdays, we went thrift-store shopping. Have I raved about the thrift stores in Sanford yet? Obviously, if you’ve been reading my blog for longer than a few months, you know I like thrift stores, but Sanford has particularly great ones. The cute little local one, just down the road, is probably my favorite, but on this specific day, J & I went to the big thrift stores first.

I was looking for light capri pants, because all my pants are denim and denim is heavy when it’s 90 degrees outside. I found a pair, in a nice light blue, $5, with the $36 Kohl’s tags still on them. I have no idea why the person who bought them didn’t just take them back — even if they didn’t have the receipt, Kohl’s would have given them a store credit! But I am not complaining. I am complaining even less about the silvery tank top from Banana Republic, also with its tags on, ($8), or the rose-colored Simply Vera Wang ruffled shirt ($5) or the other $4 shirt I bought.

my thrift store outside

A slightly weird picture, because I was looking at Jamie instead of the camera, but I love my new thrift store outfit. So comfy, so cute, and so satisfying when worn to my stepmom’s birthday lunch the next day. It’s not often that I want a picture of myself because I like my outfit so much, but I did this time. Sorta dressy, sorta casual, very very me. (And I adore my pink shoes, and am always happy to find an occasion to wear them.)

So 4th of July then was a lovely lunch and good conversation at the birthday celebration over in Mount Dora, then a return home for a quiet afternoon. Around dinner time, though, I was hungry and had no plan for what I was going to eat. Bah. Fortunately, I had plenty of ingredients. I’d picked up frozen mahi-mahi at Costco earlier in the week, I had fresh tomatoes and spinach… and voila.

Mahi-mahi on tomatoes and spinach

It was so delicious! It’s tomatoes, sautéed with capers and pine nuts, then the mahi-mahi seasoned with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, with spinach added at the last minute. Then I discovered that I’d forgotten to add the diced red onion while cooking, so I just threw it on at the end. Yum, yum, yum. The pine nuts (more or less toasted, I really just cooked them in the pan with the tomatoes, because I was not going to turn the oven on for any reason, much less to toast pine nuts) went so surprisingly well with the sharpness of the red onion. Hmm, I’m making myself hungry.

Anyway, post-dinner, Jamie & I had talked about going down to Sanford’s 4th of July celebration, but we were both feeling too lazy. Until 8:45 or so, that is, when we could hear the local fireworks starting. We hopped into the car, with Sophie, and drove down. Parking and traffic were insane, of course, but we stayed away from the center of town and parked on a side street that was a straight shot to the waterfront. We walked down to the water and got there approximately 20 seconds before the fireworks started. We stood on a grassy hill on the inside part of the street, comfortably away from the crowds, and watched as all the communities around the lake lit off fireworks, some in the distance, some up close. They were quite impressive!

One fireworkI got a few dirty looks, I think for bringing a dog to a fireworks show, but I ignored them, because I was exactly right about how it would go for Sophie: she was uncertain at first, definitely worried, borderline distressed, but once she’d seen the fireworks with Jamie and I being relaxed and interested, not tense, she was fine. Not particularly interested in fireworks, more interested in the people, but not at all worried about the loud noises.

We left a few minutes before the end to avoid the crowds, and the above photo was taken on our walk back to the car, timed pretty perfectly so that the grand finale was happening as we got there, and we beat all the traffic home. A perfect fireworks show — I think we were back at the house by 9:20, which is exactly how much time I’m actually willing to give to fireworks. Less than an hour!

I had a quiet Friday, working on various things, but Saturday I drove to Merritt Island and spent the day with my friend Lynda. We usually claim we’re going to write, so I did bring my computer, but it had been a couple months since we’d seen one another and she has a lovely swimming pool, so we didn’t write. We talked, talked, talked, floated in her pool, talked, talked, talked, ate lunch, talked, talked, talked.

Sophie was with me and very well-behaved: we stayed outside on the back porch and she explored everything, then found a comfortable place to sleep and napped. I’d hoped she’d come in the water, and maybe if I’d brought a ball, she would have. But I forgot to bring one, so she had no motivation to try swimming and therefore didn’t. Still, she did an excellent job in that new situation: no barking because her person was in the water (a habit Bartleby needed to overcome), no running around the pool frantically, no stress. She found herself a nice patch of grass where she could see the front yard and waited patiently for something interesting to happen.

Today, I spent the morning puttering through my course notes. So many notes! I have such a variety of things that I’ve written, things that I’ve learned, and I’m starting to put them together. So I think I will get back to that, maybe after some lunch and some outside time with Sophie Sunshine. Summer is really not my favorite season in Florida — it’s easy to love it here in winter, but harder in July. But we’ve really been managing surprisingly well. Sophie’s not getting nearly as much exercise as she used to but, as I probably should have expected, she seems fine with it. It turns out that a dog with a heavy fur coat doesn’t actually want to spend 30 minutes at a time running after a ball when it’s 90 degrees outside. Who knew?

Nostalgia, Good and Bad

On Sunday afternoon, I went with Christina & Co. to see Ordinary Boys, a Smiths cover band, at a bar in downtown Sanford. Actually, we thought we were going to see two cover bands, the first called New Dawn Fades, a New Order cover band, and then Ordinary Boys, but it turned out to be one group of musicians with two identities, a concept that I appreciated. So first we had New Order music, then The Smiths music, and interspersed at the end — in a move that had most of the bar crowded onto the dance floor and singing along — a few random 80s songs, including Tears for Fears and Simple Minds.

So much fun!

I am really glad that people don’t smoke in bars anymore, because in the midst of my nostalgic trip, I did notice that key difference to the bars of my early 20s. I’m also glad I don’t drink anymore, because we got there around 2:45, left at around 6:45, and four hours of drinking in a fun, boisterous, musical environment would have killed me even back then. Instead I got to thoroughly enjoy the music, then come home and play with my dog and eat a healthy quinoa bowl for dinner: win-win. And a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Two of the members of Ordinary Boys on stage

Ordinary Boys, on stage

It was not the only nostalgic event of the weekend. On Saturday, we went to see a live version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local Sanford theater. Wow! I’ve only seen Rocky Horror once previously (hmm, maybe twice, another memory just popped into my head of a movie theater on Castro Street in San Francisco), and never a live version, and that was back in my Clarkson years, eons ago. That show is so weird! There was no throwing things at the actors, fortunately, and the audience was quite tame, but the cast was energetic, enthusiastic, and looked like they were having a great time. Also really good. I did wonder about auto-tune, tbh, because the voices were so great and the technology — lighting, video, music, mics — was all top-notch for a small theater, and it’s certainly possible that technology was helping the musicians a bit. But the acting and the dancing and the having fun was all real people doing a great job.

Watching people perform always leaves plenty of room for my brain to wander, though, so it spent a lot of time wandering through the past. As it happens, I’d done a fair amount of that on Friday, too, and much less happily, because on Friday, I went to Costco.

You might think, Costco?! Nostalgia? And you’d be right. Except this Costco was achingly familiar, from a period so long ago that it hurt. I used to drive near that Costco 5 days a week, taking R to-and-from school, back when he was in a private middle school for kids with learning disabilities. It was not the happiest time of my life. I was commuting two hours a day (half an hour there, half an hour back home, 2x a day), working hard and entirely remotely while trying not to think about how much I hated my job, and living in a place that was more house than we needed in a neighborhood that would never feel like home.

But oh, how I loved my boy. Every day we listened to the Zombie Survival Guide on audiobook in the car — over and over again, multiple times, we just got to the end and started at the beginning again — and discussed our own zombie survival strategies. Of which Costco was a huge part, actually! We’d decided that the best plan was to move into the top shelves at the Costco aisles. Use height to our advantage in fighting the zombies, with plenty of supplies right next to us.

He wasn’t happy there either — neither one of us were happy — but I had decided that my priority in life, our priority, was for him to overcome his learning disabilities. That was how we wound up in Florida. The public school in California, where we’d been living, had made it clear that middle school was going to be a sink-into-mediocrity experience for him. He couldn’t go to the middle school where most of his friends would go — an excellent charter school — because they didn’t take kids with learning disabilities. And even though he wasn’t “remediated” to the extent his intelligence suggested was possible, he was no longer far enough under grade level to qualify for support. Our options were limited. The one private school in CA was insanely expensive, nothing I could remotely afford. I looked at schools in Washington, in Massachusetts, finally in Florida. Florida won. But we didn’t love it here, especially back then.

But, oh, I loved him. I would have done anything for him. Giving up my cute house within walking distance to the beach so that he could learn to read was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Giving up my career ambitions, the possibility of achieving the kind of corporate success I’d unthinkingly expected, was a no-brainer. He was my everything.

And now, of course, he is not a part of my life. I think of him with love, I try to only send the typical loving-kindness energy his way (may he be well, may he be happy, may he be loved) when his name crosses my mind, but I also think of him as someone lost to me.

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this story here, but I actually had a major breakthrough in coping with our estrangement when I started thinking of him — the real him, the R who still exists in the world — as a zombie. Someone who had been bitten by zombies, hopefully against their will, and was no longer the same person. Because no one wants to become a zombie. No one chooses to get turned into a zombie! And yet once they’ve been bitten, you have to say good-bye. You can’t keep trying to get someone who wants to hurt you, who will eat your brain, into your life. You have to let go, and let go with love and grief and sorrow, but also by choosing to save yourself.

So yeah, I went to the Costco we used to go to, back in the days when we listened to the Zombie Survival Guide every day, and planned to save ourselves by moving into the Costco, and my heart just broke. All the pieces so painstakingly held together with the duct tape of my choices for happiness and health, just… broke. It was not a good afternoon.

But I did my best to breathe and to let myself feel my feelings, to remember that young R with love, and to forgive the zombie R who exists in my imagination, and to get through. And I did. And the next day I went to Rocky Horror, and remembered the me that existed when I was 17, wide-eyed and confused, and the day after I went to Ordinary Boys and remembered the me that existed at 21, the smoking-drinking-dancing me, and I remembered those past selves with love and amusement and compassion.

And it made me remember that 30-something self with more love, too. I tried so hard. If I had known where trying so hard would take me, I would have done things differently, no question about that. But there is no rewriting the past.

Anyway. Today I’m going to choose to be happy, and that means it’s time to walk my poor patient dog and live here in the present for a while. I’m grateful, though, that I got to have some really good nostalgia this weekend. Two thumbs up for live music and time with friends.


Coaching vs consulting

I decided this weekend — after messing around with innumerable variations of coaching website designs — to just keep my Choosing Happiness site ridiculously simple and use the template from this website on that address. A new name, of course, and maybe a front page, rather than the main page being the blog, but as basic as possible, using a design I’m already familiar with. It turns out, however, that the theme for this blog is no longer included in the wordpress theme collection and so my “simple” plan immediately got complicated. I swear, that is the story of this career concept. If it is possible to overthink a word choice, I’ve been overthinking it. If it is possible to take a straightforward idea and turn it into a ridiculously complicated plan, done.

Last week, during my meeting with my accountability partner, I mentioned that I’d decided to make business cards with the job title, “Happiness Consultant.” The title amused me, mostly because breaking down the job descriptions of counselor (requires a license!) vs coach vs consultant sort of goes like this:

  • Counselors help clients develop a deeper understanding of their own history and how their past affects their present. Counselors aren’t supposed to offer advice or guidance; they should ask questions that lead clients to self-discovery, letting them find their own answers.
  • Coaches focus on supporting their clients as they make changes in the present to improve their futures. A coach can be like an extremely reliable accountability partner.
  • Consultants give advice. They listen, but their focus is on solutions to problems. They don’t assume that the client knows everything that they need to know in order to solve their problem or reach their goal.

Part of the appeal for me of coaching (and counseling, when I started graduate school eons ago,) is that good conversations fascinate me and I like talking to people. A job that involves me listening intently as people tell me their stories sounds great to me.

But I also very strongly want to say, hey, if you’re not sleeping 7-8 hours/day, that’s what you need to work on first. If you’re not eating a solid mix of vegetables and protein, we’re not going to talk about gratitude, we’re going to look at the ways food fuels mood and how before you can be happy, you have to have energy, and that means providing your system essential nutrients. If you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, preferably through sunshine, than trying to find a happiness boost by listening to music from your childhood is not going to do much.

All of that = advice. All of that = probably bad coaching. But probably good consulting.

Back to the point, I decide to call myself a Happiness Consultant.

Greg said, “you need a tag line or something succinct to explain that.”

Cue so, so, so many hours of over-thinking. Really, what I need is a website, a contact email, a course, and to start actually doing the WORK instead of thinking about the work. But maybe something like, “shaping habits for a happier today,”? Or “helping you shape habits for a happier now”? I don’t know… ugh.

Meanwhile, I am about to run late for this week’s accountability meeting, so quickly…

Yesterday was a delightful day: it included no work whatsoever, but a very nice trip to the beach.

beach view

My new beach umbrella was sadly ineffective — it kept blowing away — but I layered on the sunscreen, went in the water multiple times (always watching for sharks, yes, I’m paranoid) and appreciated my day.

Poor Sophie was less appreciative of her day.

I checked in on her through the blink camera regularly, and she was almost always lying in this exact spot, looking out that window. I was watching when we turned into the driveway coming home and her head went up in a flash, and she was off the bed and at the door before the car even stopped. So happy to see us!

But the good news for her is that my accountability meeting = her playdate with her best buddy, so today will be a much nicer day for her. Starting now!


Girl with red umbrella

If you had asked me two weeks ago if I had ever owned a red raincoat — or indeed, if I had ever worn a red anything, anytime in my life — I would have laughed and said no. Red is not my color. I never wear red, I’ve never worn red.

I would have been wrong. Apparently sometime in my long-forgotten past, I DID own a red raincoat, and I was super cute in it, if I do say so myself.

The picture is part of a collection that my brother sent me — several hundred incredibly small jpgs, most about 150K, that my mom had probably scanned sometime decades ago. The vast majority of the images were what you’d expect: snapshots, blurry, unposed, with scattered artifacts like dust and even the occasional hair from the scanning process, often too dark or too bright. But they were also the record of a childhood I mostly don’t remember — picnics, pony rides, petting zoos. Swimming in Lake George, visiting Niagara Falls, Easters at my grandparents. I had fun browsing them, and then I spent a probably ridiculous amount of time trying to enhance some of them to make my dad a Father’s Day movie with highlights of the past.

Along the way, I discovered the fun of using apps inside Canva to turn photographs into drawings. Of course I’d done that before, many years ago. Wow, that technology has come a long way.

Behold, anime me:

And sketched me, looking far more solemn than original me, with the addition of a city backdrop quite unlikely in my own childhood:

And another sketched me, this time with people and cars in the background, and honestly, just crying out to become a kids picture book somehow. There is clearly a story that goes with that cute little pudgy-faced girl in the rain. I suspect a puppy should be involved.

girl with red umbrella

I justified all that playing with Canva as learning, of course — figuring out how to make presentations and graphics so that I can use them as I work on developing my Choosing Happiness site and course and other products. I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to be in a building/learning stage, as long as someday I move on to a creating/sharing stage, and I will. Soon. Someday. Eventually. Really.

Meanwhile, I have far too many goals for this week. Update this, work on that, finish the library books I’m reading, organize my notes, create a link tree, write the damn content for the landing page on the other site so that I can start blogging over there, design a pretty infographic, decide on the image style…

But the actual goal on my to-do list for the day? Have fun with Sophie. She was alone for a big chunk of the past two days, on Sunday while I had a lovely Father’s Day brunch with my dad and stepmom, and yesterday while I had an entertaining summer day at Epcot with friends. While I don’t feel like I’ve neglected her — believe me, my dog is not neglected! — I do want to make sure she gets some entertainment in her days, too. Does she care? Probably less than I do, tbh — more than once recently, when we’ve been playing ball in the backyard, she has let me know that hanging out in the air-conditioning would be fine by her — but still. Goal for the day: do many useful things AND have fun with Sophie.



Memorial Day

I spent much of last week doing the kind of ridiculous “work” that isn’t really work, it just feels sorta like work.

Evidence #1:

An image of a folder where the folder icon has been changed to a typewriter icon

Yes, I changed the icon on my Projects folder to a typewriter icon. Why did I think that was necessary? I don’t know, and it obviously wasn’t necessary exactly — it was just fun. I was on a big organizing, re-structuring of information binge and that was part of it. I also thoroughly cleaned out old files, with the exception of one dumping ground labeled The Archives, into which I put everything that fell into the category of “haven’t touched this in years, probably don’t need to ever touch it again, but not quite sure I should throw away…”

I had to call that folder “The Archives,” not just Archives, because I didn’t want it showing up at the top of my folders list, which was super annoying. And very much in the wheel-spinning category of non-productive. It seems so obvious that I should be able to decide how my files are organized, and I should be able to drag and drop them so that they are positioned the way I want them to be positioned. That shouldn’t be hard. And yet nothing I did seemed to convince the Finder that my whim should over-rule its alphabetical or otherwise order in the list view. How much time did I waste on that? More than enough.

My one other un-organized folder is the Pictures folder. I started organizing that one — it shouldn’t be too hard — but it turned out I wasn’t really in the mood to look at photos. There’s a mindfulness exercise that I’ve been playing with recently, where every so often, you pause and look at what you’re thinking about. You consider the thought that’s been spinning around in your brain and you decide where it should be filed. In my own visual model, the files are mostly the round kind :), but sometimes there are other options.

For example, say I’m driving the car, and I’m on my way home from the grocery store, and I’m obsessing on having spent $15 more than my weekly food budget. That’s the thought: $15 over budget. But what kind of thought is it? What’s it connected to? When I’m thinking that thought, what emotion is it rooted in? In this example, it’s money -> worry -> fears of the future -> future round file. Drop it in that trash can of silly fear and move on. (In my own mind’s defense, though, I have to mention that I usually enjoy the game of getting pretty close to a precise number on a weekly shopping trip, and if I’m more than $10 over, I always try to figure out where I spent extra, because it’s a fun math puzzle. Figuring out and obsessing, however, are not the same experience.)

Anyway, back to my pictures folder, looking at images from the past invariably stirs up memories, feelings, emotions, reminiscences and ruminations, and I just did not have the time or energy for that last week. So that folder is still a mess and will undoubtedly stay a mess, although I am hoping to use some of the many, many, many beautiful photos I have taken over the years on my Choosing Happiness blog.

I’m also hoping to start writing that very, very soon. I’ve got so much great content that I’m trying to make sense of right now. One of the ideas that I’m holding on to — lest I drown in a sea of ideas & information — is from a book called “Building a Second Brain,” about personal knowledge management. The author, Tiago Fuerte, has a concept that he calls “intermediate packets.” I hate the name — honestly, really, just cringe at it, I am not a computer to be delivering packets of data — but the idea is that you create “value in small bits.” Like a blog post about one cool thing I’ve learned from a book on sleep, instead of the dozen cool things that I’ve learned which I’ve organized into a complete online course, and a book and a coaching signature program and… well, here’s a direct quote from Building a Second Brain:

Intermediate Packets are really a new lens through which you can perceive the atomic units that make up everything you do. By “thinking small,” you can focus on creating just one IP each time you sit down to work, without worrying about how viable it is or whether it will be used in the exact way you envisioned. This lens reframes creativity as an ongoing, continual cycle of delivering value in small bits, rather than a massive all-consuming endeavor that weighs on you for months.

So yeah, I’m thinking small. Small-ish. Moving forward one step at a time, and understanding that I’m looking at a long-range plan that will be fulfilled with the same persistence that got me through that Master Wellness Coaching certificate. One piece at a time!

Meanwhile, last week was also very much a recovery week for me. Somehow, I was thinking “as soon as I get home, I will feel well again.” Why did I think that? No idea. Obviously, 100% magical thinking. But my level of intestinal upset was such that I changed my seat on the plane going home to an aisle seat, just in case, and that intestinal upset did not stop when I arrived at my own bed. Alas. But I’ve been drinking my kombucha and eating my yogurt and I’m feeling better. Thank goodness, because sauerkraut or kimchi are the next step for me — fermented foods feed your intestines healthy bacteria — and I’m not really a fan of either.

Last week also included a walk with Sophie to see the osprey babies, still in the nest but probably not for much longer; watching The Fall Guy with Jamie (not a perfect movie, but definitely enjoyable); a really lovely beach day with Christina — we went in the water multiple times, because it was definitely hot enough, and then had a delicious lunch on a new (to us) rooftop patio; the farmer’s market where the micro greens guy recognized me and knew that I’d been gone for a while (yay for loose neighborhood connections); and taking the dogs out to live music at Celery City on Saturday night, which ended too early because it started to thunder but which was fun for the time we were there. The band was playing covers from people like Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Dire Straits — not music that I listen to regularly but so familiar, and thoroughly enjoyable.

As well as working and reading and writing, and doing my best to live a good life.

sunglasses in the foreground, an American flag in the background

Our rooftop patio was ready for Memorial Day.

Costa Rica Wrap-up

Fog in the canyon

There was a bench outside my hotel room in Costa Rica, overlooking this roof and the canyon beyond it, and I took so many pictures of the beautiful skies from it. I didn’t manage to get much work done while sitting on that bench, but I did eat quite a few meals there. This shot, with the clouds actually in the canyon, is one of my favorites.

So, I’m home from Costa Rica and glad to be here. Overall, though, two thumbs up.

The hotel I stayed at is called the Vista Canyon Inn, and I would absolutely stay there again, especially if I was visiting Costa Rica for future dental work. Along with the room, they provide a ride to and from the airport, and a ride to and from the dentist’s office for every single appointment you have. In my case, that was six appointments, on six separate days. They also give you a ride to the grocery store one day, and if you stay at the hotel for longer than a week, a load of laundry. Plus breakfast every day, including a fruit cup of papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and banana, which I really loved. Plus, really, really nice people. Every single morning, the concierge, Paola, asked me if I needed anything (new towels, room cleaned, help of any kind) and reminded me about my appointment schedule. It was a level of personal care that no big chain hotel could ever come anywhere close to emulating.

I also adored the pool. I swam every single day, sometimes two or three times a day. The earliest was on my last day, at around 5:30AM; the latest was after dark, more than once. I say “swam” — really, I mean floated, watching the sky, admiring the clouds, daydreaming and feeling peaceful. It was lovely. About 95% of the time I had it all to myself, too, which is a great advantage of a small hotel.

The dentist I went to was Goodness Dental, and I would go there again, too. The office was busy, clean, professional and completely geared toward Americans there for dental tourism. Most of the customers seemed to be having major work done, as in full sets of dental implants, with repeat visits required. One gentleman told me that he’d been quoted $40,000 for the work in the US, and it was costing him $11,000 in Costa Rica. He said the nice part was that he and his traveling companion were having two really luxury vacations, but it was still costing him less than half of what he would have spent in the US. I think my costs — mostly because of the need for expensive gluten-free food — ended up being a little more than I would have spent in the US, but it was totally worth it. ($2740 for the dentist, $1300 for the hotel, $350 for the flight, $530 for food & tips for a total of $4920, compared to a quote of $4700 for the dentist here. Oh, and I got a cleaning and a night guard, which would probably have put me over $5K here, so yeah, just barely cheaper, although I probably wouldn’t have been willing to get the night guard here.) Anyway, I would rather not need anything major done to my mouth anytime soon, but if I do, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

In other news:

certified master wellness coach badge


This certification was a lot harder than the Master Life Coach certification that I got earlier in the year, because the Master Life Coach overlapped with a lot of what I’d learned in grad school (for a counseling degree that I didn’t finish). I didn’t have the same base of knowledge for the elements of “wellness,” ie diet, nutrition, exercise. I definitely feel accomplished for having made it through all the required courses.

Once I was done, I spent a little time looking at the other classes: intuition development, spiritual coaching, forgiveness coaching… and then I stopped myself. At a certain point, more learning just becomes procrastination. I’m not quite at that point yet — I’ve got a bunch of books to finish reading before I start creating the online course(s) that I so over-optimistically thought I’d have completed by now — but I’m getting there. Goals for the rest of the month: get my website up, get my mailing list started. I don’t really imagine that the day I officially open my doors as a life-coach, people will be knocking, but that day is finally getting closer.

On the last question that all people have asked: was Sophie happy to see me? She was, to exactly the right degree, which is to say, happy enough to show that she missed me, and not so happy to show that my absence bothered her much. She said hello, gave me kisses and tail wags, then immediately showed me where the ChuckIt was resting and invited me to play ball. I declined the invitation, so she brought out all her toys, one at a time, but within ten minutes, she was inviting Jamie to play with her toys instead of me. Or along with me, I guess. She is pleased to have me back, I think, but not being clingy or needy. Perfect!


I gluten-ed myself on Saturday.


I ordered Korean sweet potato noodles with vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, from an Asian place, as well as a poke bowl for later. I took a couple bites of the sweet potato noodles, then looked at the menu again. The description listed the ingredients, but it didn’t list oyster sauce. But I was tasting oyster sauce. At least I thought I was.

I sighed, then shrugged. Too late, anyway, so I might as well enjoy the noodles, right?

NO! Wrong!! Bad, bad, bad idea!

I am so good at avoiding gluten that I’ve become complacent about my reaction. So in a couple of days, I’ll be sick for a couple of days, so what, right?

NO! Wrong!! Bad, bad, bad idea!

I’d had a sneaking suspicion for a while that my gluten reaction might have evolved. Some people eliminate gluten from their diet and later discover that a break from gluten was enough to let their bodies recover and they can begin eating it again in moderation. Other people eliminate gluten and their bodies say, “Whew, now we know that stuff is poison,” and the reaction gets bigger and stronger. I am in the latter camp. Which means no more waiting around two days to develop a flu-like set of symptoms (an immune system response) that include fever, sore throat, aching muscles and fatigue. Nope, I’m classic celiacs now, which means very soon after eating gluten, my body is doing its best to eliminate all traces of that poison.

The worst part — well, no, not the worst part, because that is definitely the physical symptoms. But an unpleasant part is the emotional response of feeling stupid and incompetent and sorry for myself.

In this case, in particular, the “sorry for myself” was irksome to me. Because I’m actually incredibly lucky and somewhat surprised by how many gluten-free options are available to me here. And not the kind of gluten-free options that I would have expected, which is the, “well, those are corn tortillas, so it’s probably fine, I guess I’ll take my chances,” option.

No, Costa Rica — or at least, San Jose — has a veritable plethora of gluten-free restaurants and choices. A mile away from the dentist’s office is a place called CeliHouse: a dedicated GF bakery and pizza place. About five miles to the north of the hotel is Cafeteria Rita 3 GF, also dedicated GF. Four miles to the NE, Ambroxia7, also dedicated GF. Now, it’s a little true that all those places look like the burgers & pizza kind of GF, which is not my favorite type of food, but the place I ordered from on my first day here, Raw To Go, with the spicy poke bowl and the papaya salad, is also mostly or perhaps completely gluten-free. At the very least, they clearly label some of their options as GF.

My problem is that it’s so much more fun to look for variety. Well, and also that labeling something gluten-free doubles the price, I think. My sweet potato noodles were actually a reasonably inexpensive Korean dish that I’d never heard of before, japchae, and I wanted to try something new. I did, it was a mistake. Oops.

Did I learn my lesson? Probably, at least for today.

And I did eat breakfast today, so I’m feeling enough better that I’m not going to spend anymore time moping about the miseries of life with an over-active immune system. Instead, I’m going to count my blessings.

Blessing #1:

A beautiful sunrise.

Blessing #2: Raw to Go has gluten-free brownies! As soon as my stomach promises to behave itself (not quite yet, it’s pretty unhappy about that breakfast I ate), I will be giving one a try.

The dental vacation


I’m not sure I should be calling this trip a vacation, tbh. Here’s how it’s gone so far:

Day One (Tuesday): arrived.

Day Two (Wednesday): went to the dentist. To my pleasure, the dentist said she didn’t want to do five crowns. Two, definitely; two others, she would prefer to do a partial crown (an onlay) and save as much of the tooth as possible; the fifth, she felt could just be filled like an ordinary cavity. Oh, but also, there was another cavity that needed filling. (My CA dentist had told me that, my FL dentist hadn’t mentioned it.) So the new plan: two crowns; two partial crowns; two fillings. And did I want a night guard to help with my TMJ? And a cleaning? Yes, I did. To both.

Day Three (Thursday): went to the dentist. Ugh, it was grueling. I mean, I always expected it to be grueling, but… yeah. It was grueling. Surprise: it is really uncomfortable to lie still on your back for hours and hours. Hey, ‘ya think that’s why the FL dentist wanted to take months to do this job? But also, while they’re drilling, they’re spraying water in your mouth, and while the tech is suctioning it out, some of it is going down your throat. Fine for forty minutes. But after four hours, I thought I was going to explode. I had to get them to stop for bathroom breaks for me three times! By the time I was headed back to the hotel, I felt like I never wanted to eat or drink again.

A little bad news: one of the teeth that she thought she could do a partial crown on was worse than she expected, so it turned into three crowns. And some potential bad news: two teeth were borderline for root canals. She told me if it was painful at all when the novocaine wore off, they’d want to do them, but we’d wait and see before deciding. My last three dentists have been warning me about those teeth maybe needing root canals, so it wasn’t unexpected, but it wasn’t thrilling, either.

Day Four (Friday): went to the dentist. Not grueling! Got my teeth cleaned, and the two cavities filled and all was fine, especially because those borderline root canal teeth weren’t hurting at all, so I’d dodged that bullet, yay! Getting the cavities filled was interesting, too — she asked if I wanted novocaine, and I asked her if I needed it. She shrugged and said, we could see, and if it hurts, we’ll do it. It didn’t hurt at all. It really made me wonder how many times dentists just use novocaine automatically. I haven’t had a lot of fillings but getting the novocaine shot has always been the most painful part. This wasn’t painful at all.

Up to this point, end of Day Four, all of my food had been either breakfast at the hotel (Costa Rican food — a delicious fruit starter with pineapple, banana, papaya, and watermelon, followed by scrambled eggs and either an empanada or a tamale or something similar) or UberEats. Good UberEats — poke bowls, a spicy chicken bowl, a crunchy Thai bowl — yes, I like bowls — but still, not very… vacation-y? Not that I’ve ever once ordered from UberEats at home, but when I’m on vacation, I would much rather go out and see places than eat my meals in my hotel room.

But I’m staying at one of the hotels recommended by the dentist, and it’s extremely delightfully low effort: the dentist tells the hotel where I’m supposed to be and when, the hotel arranges for someone to take me there and then picks me up when I’m done. The hotel itself is terrific, but it’s in the suburbs — it’s a place for peaceful recuperation after misery, not a place for taking great walks. Literally, they recommend that you hire an Uber even to go to the nearest restaurant because the streets are not pedestrian friendly — narrow, winding, hilly, blind corners, and traffic. Obviously, I could hire said Uber, and go to that restaurant or somewhere else, but my dental visit days did not leave me so inclined.

Friday afternoon, though, I was ready for lunch and still in San Jose, so I texted the hotel and asked if I could get picked up a little later, maybe in an hour or an hour and a half? My pick up driver that day was actually the owner of the hotel, and he said sure, so I wandered down the very urban street to the nearby shopping mall.

When I say “very urban street,” I am not meaning ghetto or city center, I am meaning the kind of street that runs next to a highway, with some big chain-type stores, all with parking out front. Basically I was strolling by a bunch of parking lots. Car-friendly, not people friendly. The mall had an Outback Steakhouse on one corner, a Starbucks in the center. You could figure out pretty quickly, of course, that it was not American — all the signs are in Spanish — but San Jose is not the charming, exotic city of anyone’s vacation dreams. At least not the parts of it that I’ve seen. It’s a real city, not a destination city.

But it also had a seafood restaurant with a menu out front, seats outside, a note on the bottom of the menu that mentioned allergies, and a friendly waitress. Their speciality: ceviche. We had a little discussion of gluten, and she started showing me through the menu, but it was, of course, all in Spanish. And it was 2PM, I was hungry, so I pointed to the trio of ceviches, said “Your choice, pick the good ones,” and handed back the menu with a smile.

She brought me back the above and told me what they were: on the far left, the “typical” ceviche with sea bass; in the middle, her personal favorite, a spicy mango ceviche with tuna; and on the right, a Caribbean version with coconut milk, red onion, and lime. Also chips, made of taro root and plantain, I think.

It looked great to me, so I was delighted, but the table next to me — well, the three men seated there — immediately started hassling the waitress. They were speaking Spanish, and it was obviously friendly, but also dramatic. I didn’t understand a word so after a little bit, I looked away and started eating. It seemed like the waitress knew them, she was arguing and laughing with them. Like I said, completely friendly, and probably none of my business.

Except it was my business, because a few minutes later, she brought me another bowl of ceviche. Their argument had been about her ceviche choices for me. The one man did not agree that she’d picked the best one. In his opinion, the best one was the one with passionflower juice. He’d ordered me an extra bowl, so that I could try it out. I think he said that it was a Peruvian ceviche. I’m not sure which one it was on the menu, but he was right, it was the best of a very, very delicious set of ceviches. (Edited to add: and really a delightful moment for me, experiencing the generosity of friendly strangers — I was seriously charmed.) 

That has been, however, my ONLY vacation experience on this trip so far. Well, apart from swimming in the very lovely pool, which I have done every day. Oh, and eating breakfast every morning with a fellow traveler, who’s making a solo move to Costa Rica when she retires in two months and is spending her days managing those details. So I guess a little more vacation than I was thinking, but still, so far the dentist has very much outweighed any sense of exploration and adventure.

You know what, though? That is very much okay with me. I have always had a “do ALL the things” mentality about vacations. I want to take advantage of the opportunity to see everything I can, do everything I can. But I’m finding this hotel relaxing and peaceful. When not at the dentist, I’ve been working, writing, learning, reading, doing all the things I usually do in my life, just doing them in a truly lovely place. Well, most of the things I usually do in my life. I obviously miss Miss Sunshine (“absolutely adorable,” according to Jamie, so doing well!) and being able to cook my own meals. Otherwise, though — I might make it home from this vacation without having touched the sands of Costa Rica, but I suspect I will finally have finished the Master Wellness Coach certification. How long have I been working on it? Since the end of February, I think. It’ll be good to be done. As long as I’m also happy with my teeth and have swum every day, I’ll call that a win.

the pool

It’s the rainy season, now, too, so every afternoon has been torrential rain. Really impressive torrential rain! I thought it would be like Florida storms, over in twenty minutes, but not so much. I won’t swim if it’s thundering, but I swam in the dark and the rain two nights ago and it was so, so peaceful and lovely. I remember wondering during my last night swim in my own pool if I would ever get to have that experience again. Answer: yes.

Life is good. Dental “vacations”, also good.

Costa Rica Day One

celestial light over a tree in a canyon

The view from the balcony outside my room

I didn’t sleep much last night, although I’ve learned enough about not sleeping that at least I didn’t stress about it while I was doing it. Multiple books on insomnia have taught me that when you’re not sleeping, you only make it worse if you start getting stressed about not sleeping. I would have rather slept, but I understood that I was anxious and I knew all the reasons why I was anxious and so I just tried to remember to breathe, worked on being mindful, let my thoughts drift away on clouds…

And then woke up again, wondering if I’d remembered to pack tissues for the plane. Or enough pairs of socks. Or my floss. Or whether my backpack was going to be too big to be a personal item or whether I should see if I could borrow a bigger piece of luggage from someone, maybe Jamie. Before 8AM, because that’s when Greg was coming to give me a ride to the airport. And thinking of 8AM, would I have time to give Sophie a good walk and take a shower and eat a good breakfast, or was one of those things going to have to fall by the wayside? And if so, which one?

And then I’d remember that I was being mindful and not worrying, and I’d work on some square breathing, where you breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4, in for 4, etc. (When you consider breathing exercises, you’ll notice that most of them have you breathing in a lot less than you actually hold or breathe out — square breathing, for example, lets you get one second of air for every three seconds of not-air. It’s nature’s best high, because a tiny bit of mild hypoxia — aka oxygen deprivation — causes euphoria. Too much hypoxia causes death, of course, but a little of it is practically spiritual.)

Anyway, morning eventually rolled around. I tried to cram in sufficient dog walk, a good breakfast, a shower, plus some rethinking of packing decisions, and my anxiety level hovered somewhere around medium high. High enough that I was always aware of it, but not high enough to be disabling. It stayed that way until I opened the door to Greg’s car and discovered a packet of tissues on the floor almost under the passenger seat. I immediately remembered my middle of the night wish for tissues, realized that I hadn’t brought any, and asked Greg if I could have the ones I’d found. He said sure, and all my worries pretty much dissolved. Those tissues felt like the universe taking care of me. They were magical.

The rest of the day passed in travel, boring in the way that travel can be, also magical in the way that travel is. I looked out the windows of the plane a lot and thought about how amazing it really is that we can just jump on a plane and go SO far away, and yet at the same time, I wanted more leg room, I wanted to change positions, I wanted no one sitting next to me, I wanted it to all be over sooner. I stood in long lines at the airport to get through customs and immigration, waited for my bag for what felt like forever, and tried to appreciate that I was doing those things in a country I’d never been to before. It didn’t stop the lines from being tedious, though.

A driver picked me up right outside the airport, holding a sign with my name on it. He didn’t speak a lot of English, but he had his phone set up so that when he talked, it automatically translated for him. Whoa! That did feel magical. He told me about the nearby volcanoes releasing gases that formed clouds over the city, the neighborhoods we drove through, pointed out the nearest restaurants and the American style shopping district (Starbucks and Olive Garden included), and dropped me off at the hotel.

I checked in and the very first thing I did was go for a swim in the very lovely pool. Good thing, too, because the first rumble of thunder sounded not ten minutes later and within half an hour, the rain was nicely torrential. I spent the next hour or so browsing Uber Eats and when the rain finally started to let up, I ordered a papaya salad and a sweet ginger poke bowl from a place called Raw to Go. It wasn’t exactly my idea of the Costa Rican national cuisine, but wow, there are a lot of poke bowl places here. A ton of American fast food, too, but the poke bowls and the keto Indian cuisine will get more of my business than the Papa John’s and McDonald’s.

sweet ginger poke bowl

My sweet ginger poke bowl: salmon, brown rice, kale, nori, mango, green papaya, avocado, sesame seeds, crispy onion, and brown rice. Tasty, would eat again, didn’t love.

papaya salad

Papaya salad, with grilled salmon: so delicious! Tangy and all that green is mint. Would absolutely eat again. An early contender for favorite food in Costa Rica.

Then I started writing this blog post. And then I realized that I was so tired, I was  incoherent, so I stopped writing this blog post and went to sleep. 🙂

Now it’s 6AM. My first appointment at the dentist is at 8AM, so I’ll be leaving the hotel  before breakfast, unfortunately, but I have leftover papaya salad to keep me going. And I’m feeling — well, not exactly enthusiastic, it is a ton of dental work, after all! — but definitely positive.

For those wondering (I would be), my housemate Jamie is taking care of Sophie. He’s never owned a dog, so this is his chance to see whether life is better when a dog is dragging you out for walks every morning & afternoon (it is!) and he and Sophie adore one another, so she’s in good hands. I watched her for a while on my Blink camera last night while he was at work — she was lying on my bed, staring out the window, being a very good girl — and I absolutely miss her already.

But it’ll be so good to get these teeth taken care of — I’m expecting 5 crowns on teeth that currently have ancient fillings — and I’m looking forward to enjoying the pool, some more interesting foods, and hopefully getting a chance to see more of Costa Rica while I’m here.

Sophie Turns Three

On Wednesday afternoon, about 5PM, I decided that Sophie needed a birthday treat.

She’d had a couple birthday treats already: a three mile walk along the RiverWalk in the morning, where we saw nesting ospreys (she did not care), a swimming alligator (she did not care), and a squirrel (she was delighted, but sad that I wouldn’t let her chase it.)

osprey sitting on its nest

If you look for the subtle difference between the top photo and the bottom photo, I’m pretty sure it’s a baby osprey (visible in the first photo, gone in the second). It was a long way away and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I was never 100% sure that I could see a baby, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the photos show.

An osprey sitting on its nest

another osprey nest

The other ospreys.

an alligator in the water

The alligator

Also, a couple rounds of ChuckIt out in the park in front of the house, which is a much bigger space for running than the backyard. I don’t usually play with her there, because, sure, she can run farther, but while she’s running, I have to make sure I’m not standing on a fire ant hill. Plus, at the end of the street, two little dogs come out of their house and bark, bark, bark at her. I don’t mind the barking, but I worry when they run out into the road while their owner yells at them from the door. I don’t think it’s going to be my fault if those dogs get hit by a car, but it’s not something I want to witness. Wednesday we’d played there anyway, though, long enough that Sophie collapsed in the cool grass, panting. (We were playing there because of the giant tree branch blocking most of the backyard.)

Still, neither of those activities were particularly out of the ordinary. And it was her birthday! Three years on the planet is an event worth celebrating. So I decided to take her downtown for a pup cup at my favorite coffee/ice cream place. Christina’s out of town with Riker, but I invited Jamie and Greg to join us if they were so inclined. It was a pleasant Wednesday evening, so they both said yes.

On our way, though, Jamie said, “Three years old. That’s really twenty-one in dog years. We should take her out for a beer instead.”

I laughed.

But I was underestimating Sanford’s dog friendliness! Jamie was serious. Instead of going to the coffee shop, we wandered up the street a couple of blocks and went to a brewery with a dog menu. Sophie got meatballs, a “cigar” (lamb jerky) and her very own dog beer (a beer can filled with pizza flavored dog treats.) We sat outside on the patio, enjoying the weather, and celebrated Sophie.

A beer can full of dog treats and a lamb jerky "cigar"

The dog beer. Really it was filled with pizza flavored dog treats.

She was, as always, terrific. She’s a really good restaurant dog these days. Not exactly thrilled when she realizes that we’re not moving — she would much rather be trotting along the sidewalks, sniffing every possible post — but perfectly amenable to just hanging out with the people for a while.

As it’s gotten hotter here, I’ve had to leave her home alone more, but I got a Blink camera so I can watch her while I’m gone, and that’s always fun. She sometimes whimpers a little in the first few minutes, but once she’s resigned to what’s happened, she mostly sits on my bed and stares out the window. Waiting patiently! I think the longest I’ve left her was about six hours and every time I checked in on her, she was in the exact same spot, lying quietly, but with her eyes on the window.

I do wish we were still doing our California dog training, though, just because she liked it so much. Every so often — probably not often enough — I’ll grab a handful of treats to play with her in the evening and she’s always really delighted. Not so much, I think, because she cares about the treats, but she loves the interaction. If I sit on the floor she immediately brings me a toy, and anytime a stranger comes in the house, she first says hello, and then goes and finds them a toy, just in case they might want to play with her. She’s such a sociable girl.

Definitely more mellow at 3 then she was at 2, but also more loving all the time. At 2, she did not particularly want her tummy rubbed; at 3, tummy rubs are an essential part of a good day. (Somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5, she became willing to show me her tummy upon request, although I can’t really remember when — in 2023, I know, but I can’t place it to a month — but now she shows me her tummy without waiting to be asked, a silent request for pets. Still would prefer not to have her paws held, though!)

Once upon a time, I made a scrapbook page about R, listing adjectives about who he was at that moment in time. I wish I had that page now, I’d love to see it and remember what I wrote, but if I had done the same thing for Sophie on birthdays one and two, energetic would have been the first adjective on the list. Sweet would have been close to the top. Curious would probably have been in the top 5. At three, though, energetic is… well, maybe third. I think I’d put curious first, sweet second. Or maybe delightful second.

I’m so grateful for the curious, though. Well, and also for the well-trained, which probably belongs somewhere in that list, too. It probably took me until Monday morning to realize that if she didn’t have such a great recall, she would still have been standing under the tree when it fell. I screamed for her when I ran, “Sophie, Sophie, with me,” and she came immediately, no hesitation at all even though she was curious about what was happening. I would not have liked dying by electric wires, but honestly, I’d probably take that over surviving if Sophie had been crushed. (I’d be dead, so I wouldn’t care. Whereas if Sophie had been crushed, I would have cared immensely.) So I am enormously glad that her curiosity did not win out over her obedience. Maybe that means sweet is first on her adjective list, curious second? But either way, this week would have been a very different week if she wasn’t such a curious girl. I feel so very lucky that she is who she is! For many reasons, not just that I am glad we were both alive to celebrate her birthday.

Sophie Sunshine

Sophie Sunshine, at three years old.