Time, wasted and otherwise

I spent a good long while last week struggling to find out why pieces of my website were breaking. The commenting feature had been misbehaving for weeks — I couldn’t even leave comments myself without getting error messages! — and the RSS feed had stopped working sometime in August.

Unfortunately, there were no flashing red lights on the dashboard, saying, “This! Here! This is what’s gone bad!” Even the error codes weren’t much use. Eventually, though, I found a Q&A from around five years ago that attributed the specific error code I was getting to a plug-in problem, so I started deleting plug-ins. This is… well, undesirable. My web site is not fancy, so all the plug-ins that I use are serving a purpose. I did eventually find the one that was causing the problem (I think), and uninstalled it, so fingers crossed I’m done with that waste of time.

Sadly, if the problems continue, the only plug-in left to delete is the one that lets me send posts via email. It would be nice if I could save the addresses, and reinstall either that plug-in or some other that does the same thing, but if you’re used to getting my posts in your in-box and you stop hearing from me for… well, some length of time greater than a couple weeks, because I do try to post every week… you might want to come back to the actual blog and see if you need to subscribe again.

It did feel like a waste of time, too. I tried to convince myself that my blog is useful! Fun! An important part of my business model (hahaha)! But it’s closer to a waffle-maker than a car in terms of practicality. No one needs waffles. They’re just kinda nice sometimes. Whereas if your car breaks…

Speaking of cars, we had some torrential rain several days ago. If I’d been in Serenity, it would have been one of the fun maraca days, where I felt like I was living in a musical instrument because the rain made such a powerful set of rhythms on the roof. As it was, I mostly ignored it, and never once, not even for the slightest half-second, did I wonder, “Hey, did I open the back car windows for Sophie when I last drove the car? Could I have left them open?”

That was a mistake.

Yes, I could have left the windows open. Yes, I did leave them open!

There were puddles in the car. Literal puddles. The mats on the floor of the back seat were full-ish, the little receptacles by the door handles on the interior of the doors were overflowing. Ugh.

Fortunately, my housemate, J, found me a tiny space heater, a long extension cord, and a bunch of towels, and I spent the greater part of a day drying out the car. I was nervous enough for the first hour or so that I checked on it every ten minutes, but as it became clear that I was not going to set the car on fire, I’d give it a half an hour at a time or so, and then move the space heater to a new location. It worked surprisingly well, actually. The car is dry and there is no smell of mildew, whew.

Still, what a waste of time! Also a waste of time — the literal twenty minutes I spent reading about the parts of car doors, trying to figure out what the heck those receptacles are for and/or actually called.

But moving on, I read a fantastic book this weekend. Not a waste of time, at all: Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig. (That’s an affiliate link, since I have recently been reminded of the impracticality of my blog.)

It is probably not for everyone. But if you struggle with depression and/or know and love someone who struggles with depression, it is a combination of a memoir about depression and a self-help-ish guide to recovery from depression. It’s definitely more his personal story and his personal advice then anything overly prescriptive: his advice on drugs is basically ‘if it works for you, you should do it, but I didn’t go that route,’ which obviously resonates with me, since I also haven’t chosen that route. But I picked it up mostly because I’ve been researching how exactly people go about writing memoirs, having been struggling with my own for a year now, and yet once I started reading, I just kept going. A totally worthwhile use of time, IMO.

And now I’m going to try to use some more time in a worthwhile way and get back to Cici. I’ve been super stuck and I finally realized while walking Sophie this morning where my wrong turn came about and how to fix it. So nice to have a plan instead of just a blank accusing page in front of me!

Because I don’t want to forget…

… a tiny little Sanford story.

I took Sophie to the downtown farmer’s market. Lots of people, lots of sunshine, lots of other dogs. She was being her usual delightful self, a little curious, a little bouncy, but very good in a crowded place. We were waiting in line at the hummus stand (excellent hummus), behind a guy with a dog that was probably a yellow lab, maybe mixed with some golden retriever. Not the super fluffy kind of golden, but a nice-looking dog, who was also waiting patiently.

A young woman walking by spotted the dog ahead of us in line, and crooned to him, “Aren’t you the cutest thing ever?”

I cleared my throat.

She glanced over at me, looked down at Sophie who was looking back at her, head cocked, turned back to the yellow lab, and said, apologetically. “I’m so sorry. You’re the second cutest thing ever. Which is still very cute!”

I laughed, the guy with the yellow lab laughed, she laughed, and on we all went with our days.

But days later, it still makes me smile.

dog with ball

Florida Wildlife


A hawk was sitting in the tree in the front yard when we left for our walk the other day. It didn’t bother to move when I tried to photograph it, just stared at me disdainfully. a vulture next to a dead opossum

Down the street, a vulture was snacking on a dead opossum. It didn’t bother to move, either, even though it was on the ground. It wasn’t wrong, though. I was certainly not getting close to it, and even Sophie was wary enough to keep her distance. Vultures are pretty big, really.

Later that same day, I opened the back door of the car, and a tiny frog was perched in the frame. I shooed him away without taking a photo, but belatedly realized the set of three would make a terrific little Florida slideshow. This is what it’s like to live in Florida: hawks in the Spanish moss, vultures and opossums on the street, frogs living in your car.

Sophie’s favorites are the squirrels and the lizards, though. I think the first time she ever saw a squirrel was at my brother’s house in PA — she followed it across the street without even hesitating at the side of the road, proving, alas, that I am not sexier than a squirrel. Since then she’s gotten better, but she still loves to chase them. IMO, they’re way too complacent about her. They flip their tails at her and chitter, which is fine, but sometimes they sit on the ground and yell at her, which I really think is probably a big mistake on their part. So far they’ve been lucky, but if she can catch one, she will.

Yesterday, we went downtown with friends and hung out at a sidewalk cafe for a while. People were setting up for an event later in the afternoon, so there were food trucks and live music and lots of people wandering around. It was fun to sit at the cafe with her and watch the world go by. I was pretty charmed by the number of people who reached down and rubbed her ears with barely a pause in their own walking. Like her ears were just a magnet for their hands, no conscious volition involved.

She was pretty good for an hour or so, but she got increasingly antsy, putting her paws up on my leg, and staring at me imploringly, and finally I decided maybe it was just too loud for her. We headed home, on foot, but had barely gotten more than a block away when she found a patch of grass with obvious relief. Oh! I am impressed, I think, that she defines “sidewalk cafe” as “inappropriate pee spot.” I would have thought outside was outside, but not so much for her. Grass is required.

Last week, I was a little worried that she was sick — she seemed very low energy to me. But if she was, she’s recovered, because I’ve had to hide the balls again. Today was almost five miles of walking, plus two stints of ball-throwing, of at least half an hour each. And if she can find a ball, she’ll bring it to me and suggest we play some more. All the playing, all the time.

Sophie, sitting under a tree

Here she is, resting after some serious backyard squirrel hunting. Well, and ball-playing, too.

We are not quite in our groove yet — little bits of a routine are starting to take shape, but I’m still feeling not quite settled. Example: I haven’t really figured out where I’m getting my groceries. In the past ten days, I’ve been to Costco, BJ’s, Aldi, Target, Save-A-Lot, Walmart, Winn-Dixie, and Fancy Fruit & Produce, all of which had things I wanted, none of which had all the things I wanted. I don’t want to have to go to half a dozen stores to find my staple foods, which maybe means settling into some new staple foods. But I don’t know what that looks like yet. No more pupusas or smoked salmon from Costco (too far away, the drive doesn’t make sense), no more GF bread from Arise, no more fresh eggs, but what will I be eating instead? So far, a lot of veggie hash, which, yay, good for me, very healthy, but also, bah, there’s only so much veggie hash one can eat. I’ll figure it out, I’m sure, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Still, it’s only been three weeks. It’s kinda weird sharing a kitchen with gluten-eaters, too. I’m trying to be careful, but it’s only a matter of time before I forget and wind up with a cross-contamination reaction. No big deal, of course, a gluten reaction isn’t fatal to me, just annoying. But I do prefer to avoid it if I can.

I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time today browsing time tracking tools and writer apps. I’m trying to convince the BBE to build me the perfect time tracking writer app, one that’s a lot like Highland 2, without all the screenplay writing focus. I want it to include the word counting, the sprint timer, the bin, and the notes, but I’d really rather not have to learn a new set of markup tools. I hate things that have the “oh, it’s so simple, you just have to remember that an equals sign means you’re writing a synopsis and that a synopsis is the same as a note and that if you want to start a new chapter, you should use a hash tag, but use more hashtags if you want smaller headings and the double bracket tool…” Um, no. Just stop now. Simplicity was gone as soon as I started having to remember symbols instead of words. But I would really, really like a writing app/time tracking app that let me have timed sprints and word-count reports, that sounds so handy.

Should I have spent all that time actually writing instead? Oh, probably. But I am making progress! I’d say I’m getting back to it now, but somehow my day has turned into evening. But I’ll be back at it in the morning!


My Inner Critic

Yesterday I went to a writer’s group meeting in Sanford. It was excellent!

I’ve been to a fair number of writer’s groups over the years and most are not excellent. Most are more like, “Well, maybe it’ll be better if I get to know people.” Or sometimes, “That was tedious, but maybe the topic at the next meeting will be more interesting.” The one in Arcata was, “Wow, they’re all so young and enthusiastic.” My favorite one in the past was often, “That was fun, but we didn’t talk about writing much.”

The meeting yesterday was focused: we did talk about writing. And the attendees were a great mix of published authors, debut authors, and writers who wanted to work on their writing without necessarily planning on publishing. In a really weird coincidence, there were four first-time attendees (of whom I was one) and all of us had the same name. I was the last to arrive, and when I introduced myself there was a burst of laughter and surprise — it was confusing, then amusing. My name does not usually cause hilarity.

The meeting format was introductions, followed by a creative exercise, followed by thirty minutes of solo writing time, followed by a check-in. I was not particularly optimistic going into the meeting — “creative exercises” in the past haven’t really tended to be my thing — but I was willing to try. So glad I did! This creative exercise was awesome.

Maybe it was just that it was something I needed at that exact moment, but the exercise was one about personalizing your inner critic. There were a whole series of questions, and I really wish now that I had saved the sheet the questions were written on so that I could quote some of them. I did a quick google search trying to find the exact questions, but the topic “inner critic” is a rabbit hole that would take me hours to work my way out of, so no go.

Basically, though, you start by thinking about the voice of judgement that you hear in your head and what it says to you, and then you think about who it resembles/where it comes from. One woman, for example, discovered that her voice reminded her of girls from high school. Then you try to make it a character, describing its appearance and some random things about it, including what it eats for breakfast.

We did this in writing, in fifteen minutes, and quoting from my own brain dump, my inner critic is:

Santa Claus, but from the perspective of a small child. Enormous, red, scary — a stranger whose lap you’re supposed to sit in, who’s judging you and can see you all the time, everything you do, even while you’re sleeping. And if you fail to be perfect, he will publicly shame and humiliate you by putting coal in your stocking…

What does my inner critic have for breakfast? The souls of small children, obviously.

Earlier in the meeting, during the introductions, I had said that I have five unfinished projects currently, all of which I’m stuck on because halfway through they go incredibly dark and I don’t want to be a dark writer. After I shared my inner critic exercise, I think it was the group leader who suggested that perhaps it was time to embrace a genre switch. Ha.

But it was really fun. I had a great time. The group only meets once a month, but I’m definitely putting it into my calendar to do again. Meanwhile, it’s time to start persisting on Cici. Yes, she’s gone dark — Why, oh why, are my sentient otters being tortured? They were supposed to be fun! — But somehow I am going to make it through the darkness to the other side. As Christina said when I was whining to her, you can’t have light without darkness, anyway.

the santa claus robot from Doctor Who

My inner critic. That instrument is really a flamethrower.


Sunshine on the morning mist at the park down the street

Sunshine on the morning mist at the park down the street

I’ve been exploring new walks with Sophie around our new neighborhood, but I think we’ve settled into our morning routine. It’s about a mile and a half, across one busy road, and then down a friendly street and around a small park. Sophie gets to be off-leash for some of the walk, on-leash for the part that involves streets with cars that drive too fast, and she seems happy with the first, tolerant of the second.

This morning when we headed out, there was a little chill in the air. I was wearing a lightweight hoodie — it not having even crossed my mind to check the weather before leaving the house — and I shivered a little, but but by the time we made it home, the sun was already warming up the day.

By 10AM, Sophie and I were in the backyard, me with computer and Chuck-It in tow. I’ve spent the vast majority of the day sitting in my new, reasonably comfortable, reclining outdoor chair, with my laptop on my lap, pondering Cici. The Chuck-It is on the ground next to my chair and when Sophie brings the ball close enough, I throw it for her. (We’re having a tiny power struggle about how close the ball needs to be before I’m willing to throw it, but she’s going to figure it out eventually.)

My outdoor office is not quite perfect: I’m going to need to start experimenting with mosquito repellents, because this is Florida, after all. But I bought two chairs so that my writing friends could come hang out in my backyard with me, and set up Sophie’s dog bed between them, so I’m looking forward to some peaceful sociability back here.

Some peaceful, warm, sunny sociability. I am not, of course, sitting in the direct sunlight. I’m under the shade of some huge trees that I think might be live oaks. I’ll have to see if I can get Apple Photos to identify the species for me. But they’re draped with beautiful Spanish moss and their leaves are green and there is not the slightest hint that this might be winter. Of course, come summer, assuming I’m still here, I will probably be a lot less willing to work outside. As I remember from when I lived in Florida last, when the temperature gets much past the mid-80s, my hands will be sweaty enough that it’s hard to type. But there’s plenty of shade, so maybe I’ll still be able to enjoy it.

And if not, maybe I’ll love my office set-up in my bedroom. My room is not big, but it’s actually not much smaller than the tiny house was and unlike the tiny house, I don’t have to treat it as a kitchen as well as a living space. So I’ve ordered a small desk and a comfortable office chair, and they’ll get here tomorrow. I’ll set them up right by the front window, which looks out on a lovely green space, so I’ll have a view while I write. Yep, a room with a view.

Speaking of kitchens — I LOVE having a real kitchen. Counter space! Two sinks! Four burners! A full-size refrigerator! It’s cozy and cute and full of other people’s belongings, (I have two housemates, three if we include the owner of the house who doesn’t live here, but left the kitchen fully stocked) but I have been making myself thoroughly at home.

Today I made one of my housemates come rearrange the cabinets with me, somewhat with the excuse (true) of wanting to have my spices on shelves where I can easily see them, but also in the hopes of getting rid of anything truly ancient. We wound up organizing all the leftover containers — more tops than bottoms, of course; stashing some things likely to be less-used on shelves above the fridge; and discovering lifetime supplies of cumin and turmeric. I think there are three almost full and one partially full bottles of turmeric. We also tossed anything with an expiration date of more than two years ago, which meant emptying out some jars that had been sitting on the counter and moving them to free up more counter space.

At one point, I said, apologetically, “I’m not really a clean freak,” and then I stopped myself and said, “And if I was, that would be totally fine.” I’m not, especially when compared to my mother and grandmother, but it is true that I like living in an organized space. This space is more organized today than it was a week ago, and cleaner, too, and that’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t quite feel like home, but it feels like it might someday feel like home, and that’s… well, that’s lemonade.

Next week, my friend J will come write with me, and sometime soon thereafter, I hope my friend Lynda will come write with me, too. I am going to have to get some real lemonade to offer them, but I am already grateful that I get to spend time with them and that when we part, it will be with “when can we do this again?” instead of “I might be back next year.”

Yeah, I am liking my lemonade.




Back in 2010, I wanted my mom to get a dog. I was convinced that a dog would be good for her, for all the reasons that dogs are good for people, not the least of which is that dogs give us unconditional love and everyone can use a little more of that. I was talking to rescue groups, trying to find the right dog for her, when she pre-empted my search by buying a puppy at a flea market.

At a flea market!

Okay, yeah, I was a little horrified by that, but the puppy was a ball of golden fluff and adorable, and even if it was a puppy mill puppy, well, it was in need of a good home, too. She and my dad named the puppy Gizmo, and had all the fun with him that a new puppy brings.

At that point in time, I had really only known one dog well — Zelda, my Jack Russell terrier — and so my standard for dog intelligence was unreasonably high, a fact that I was not aware of. You can’t know what you don’t know, right? I had to live with a few more dogs before I realized that my expectations were unreasonable. At the time, though, I thought Zelda was a normal level of smart and Gizmo… well, Gizmo was charming.

Maybe the first time Gizmo came to visit us at our house in Winter Park, the dogs were running around the backyard and R was worried that Gizmo would fall in the pool. I confidently said, “Oh, no, he won’t do that,” just as Gizmo ran straight out over the edge of the pool and into the water. R jumped in after him — in January! — as I was still dithering in surprise. Even now the memory makes me laugh.

Which is nice, because you know what is coming, right? No one writes this kind of post except when they’re saying good-bye. Gizmo’s been declining for a while, was in congestive heart failure, and on Friday, after another round of tests indicated that something new was wrong (maybe liver, maybe kidneys), my dad and stepmom made the painful decision to help him go.

I nearly said it was a hard decision, but you know, I don’t think it was hard. It was time. But painful, oh, yes. Because Gizmo — my mom’s dog — actually turned out to be my mom’s last major gift to my dad. He was still a puppy, not even a year old, when she died. The hospice where she spent her last weeks allowed animals in and I can remember Gizmo lying next to her on her bed while she stroked his fur. But she was already letting go of the world, and she handed Gizmo off to my dad knowing that they would take care of one another after she was gone.

They did. Gizmo was maybe not the brightest dog (Zelda was tough competition), but he was the quintessential good dog. Loyal, loving, affectionate, playful, sweet, and completely 100% devoted to his person. If you wanted to find him, you never had to look much farther than two feet away from my dad. He was sociable and friendly to other people, always happy to say hello, but my dad was his person, and he was my dad’s shadow.

I gave him a bath last week, and I’m so glad that I got that last chance to rub his fur and tell him what a good boy he was. Because he was such a good boy. Such a good dog. He will be missed. He is already missed.

Transitional spaces

I’m not moving into my new house until the 1st, so I’ve been hanging out in Christina’s guest bedroom this week, both busily managing the business of a move — how many different places do I need to update my address? — and not at all busily recovering from a period of upheaval. It feels simultaneously relaxing and stressful, because the upheaval is not going to be over until I’m sleeping in my own bed, on my own sheets, with my own tea mug waiting to be used, but meanwhile, there’s not really a lot for me to do.

Except play ball with Sophie. And more ball with Sophie, and more ball with Sophie. In the tiny house, I always put the balls away the moment we returned from the park, because Sophie, in possession of a ball, is a persistent little monster. I can remember when she didn’t know what to do with a ball and had absolutely no interest in returning it to me one way or the other. That day has long since passed. The other day, I discovered three balls next to my leg when I finally stood up. She’d been bringing them to me hopefully, and when I ignored one, she went and found another. Riker owns a lot of balls  — and doesn’t appear to care about them at all — so Sophie has been amassing a collection of them in the guest room. We do play every day, but she would play all day, every day if she could. She needs a swimming pool! (Zelda used to play ball by herself in the pool, dropping a ball in, letting the pump current take it away, then jumping in and swimming after it.)

The big excitement, if it can be called that, has been the AirDotShow Tour. Christina mentioned it to me in a text as she was on her way out to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. Totally casual, just:

C: FYI, there is going to be an air show in Sanford this weekend so the planes may be practicing over the next few days. Don’t worry, we aren’t at war.

Me: Lol, good to know! Probably wouldn’t have been my assumption, given that Sanford doesn’t exactly seem like a prime target for bombing runs but I guess you never know in this crazy time. 

Me: Those planes are seriously loud. 

And still later,
Me: Okay, and you were totally right. It sounds like the end of the world.

I have innumerable photos of blue sky over the house, from my failed attempt to catch a picture of the spiraling fighter jets or the team flying planes or any of the things that were making such incredible, incredible noises. This was the best I ever did.

The sky framed by trees

I stopped trying after that, because this was the teeny-tiny plane that’s in that image.

The jets were bigger, but also so much faster that my little square of sky was always empty by the time my phone clicked for the photo. I wouldn’t exactly call it entertaining — at least not for those of us who got to listen to the incredible noise for four days running — but it was interesting.

Of course, I have also been trying to write. I am determined to finish Cici 2, and it’s going to happen, but it’s happening slowly. My real issue is that my daydreaming time has been taken up with worrying and ruminating, neither helpful. And really, I should be fair to myself and say “worrying” = “planning” and “ruminating” = “processing.” There are things to take care of — health insurance, driver’s license, etc. — and planning for how and when is not “worrying.” And “ruminating” — well, a lot happened and I know that letting myself feel my feelings about it is emotionally healthier than stuffing my feelings. Although it’s not even that so much as just trying to figure out my feelings.

Example: I keep laughing when I remember that one of Suzanne’s first moves was to unfollow me on Instagram and remove me from her followers. Seriously! Is that not so impressively petty? So… well, juvenile? Like we were teenagers or something. And honestly, it makes me laugh. I think I should probably feel badly about it, but I just don’t. It’s too stupid, and like a character in a bad novel.

And then I remember that my last encounter with her, presumably ever, will be her handing me legal papers kicking me out of the tiny house, when the car was already three-quarters packed and it was clear that I was almost gone. Like what is the point of that? Just throwing some salt on the wound? Gratuitously mean for the sake of being mean?

And then me saying, “Can I say good-bye to the dogs?” and her responding, “I’ll send them out. In ten minutes or so?” and me nodding. And then, honestly, I want to cry, because… we were friends for a long time. And I’m certainly grieving for those dogs that I loved, that I will never see again, but I’m grieving for the friend, too.

I guess it’s really just like a divorce — a person you cared about grew into someone that you stopped caring about, and when you say good-bye for the last time, it’s with the memories of who they once were. Impressively petty and mean is who I will have to remember her as being, but once upon a time, she was fun and cheerful and my favorite adventure buddy. I’m going to remember her that way, too, I just don’t quite know how yet.

Thus, the ruminating/processing.

Thus the not quite progressing enough on Cici.

And now I’m going to go back to writing Cici, because there are plenty of hours in the day left, and I will finish this book. Someday! Maybe even someday soon!


In my first post after leaving Arcata, I wrote that as I left I discovered that I felt a sense of relief, and I said I was going to write more about that later. I’ve debated whether I actually should or not, but given that my blog is really for me, for my memories, my future record of my own experiences, I want to. I want to remember this.

So: I was reluctant to admit to myself or anyone else how much I truly hated the way Suzanne treated Bear, and Sophie by extension.

I really did, though. I didn’t feel like there was much I could say, because she was doing all the expensive training and courses, seminars and Cesar Milan, and weekly Zoom calls, and I was doing… well, not much. Recently fun classes, of course, but I’m no expert dog trainer.

But the more time passed, the older the dogs got, the more pronounced our really different attitudes toward the proper treatment of dogs, and the proper expectations for dogs, became. The more pronounced the difference between the dogs became, too, and not in a good way.

At one point recently, Suzanne asked me something like whether I thought she was wrong in how she was training Bear, and the question was a surprise. I answered it badly, I think because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. On the spot, I said something like, “Well, you know, we have really different dogs, and if Sophie and I get into a power struggle, I will always win, because I can pick her up, and Bear’s a lot bigger, so you know, you have to negotiate power in a different way.” I’m including those “you knows” because I bet there were even more of them, and maybe some ums and ers, too.

I was avoiding the truth.

I didn’t want to recognize that the answer was, “Yes, Yes, YES,” because… that would have caused an argument? Hurt her feelings? I don’t know why. She has all this training on her side, thousands of dollars spent, to have an anxious, reactive, insecure dog who has to be on a leash in the back yard because she can’t be trusted to not try to attack the neighbor’s dogs. Yes, I think that the firm discipline, shock/prong collar, “do what I say at all times,” approach is a lousy way to treat a dog and not a successful training technique.

And I say this from the unfortunately smug position of finding Little Miss Sunshine to be truly delightful, even if she does jump on me and get excited and persists in wanting more ball time and even occasionally barks at people passing by, all of which Suzanne disapproved of. I didn’t need a perfect dog, I needed a pet, and that’s what I have, and she is awesome.

So yeah, a big chunk of my sense of relief to be leaving is because negotiating Suzanne’s attitudes toward the dogs and what they should do/should be was not much fun, and I don’t regret not having to do it anymore.

Now that I’m in Florida and hanging out with Christina, Greg, and Riker, that sense of relief is even more pronounced. I felt really sad to be taking Sophie away from her bestie. It was ending a friendship that I thought would be forever for her.

the puppies last snuggle

Sophie and Bear snuggle for the last time

But Suzanne never let them play. She disapproved of dogs getting excited for any reason, enthusiasm was always the enemy. As far as she was concerned, romping was “activating Bear’s prey drive,” therefore bad. Doggie wrestling was to be shut down the moment it started. Maybe she was right and Bear was dangerous to Sophie, but I felt like the way dogs learn to play together is to play together, and that if Bear hurt Sophie, Sophie would yelp, and then Bear would know better, and be more gentle the next time. Instead Suzanne would separate them. It’s been literally months since the last time they got to play at the beach together. I kept thinking that Suzanne would… well, eventually go back to who she was when she had her first dog, Buddy, which was super chill and loving, easy on everything he did, but… not so much.

Now Sophie has Riker to play with, and OMG, are they adorable together. Riker is working very hard at teaching Sophie to play the way he likes to play, which is a lot of wrestling and jumping on one another. Sophie is super confused, she keeps checking in with me to say, ‘is this okay?’ Yep, it’s okay. There is much face licking and following one another around and exchanging of toys and some occasional barking and a ton of enthusiasm. So much enthusiasm. It’s making me really happy.

Sophie and Riker together

Not snuggling yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of time.

As for the rest of my relief, well, dumping my rain pants and three pairs of shoes on the free pile at the end of the driveway felt great. Before I moved into the van, Arcata was never on my list of possible places to live because I didn’t think I’d enjoy the weather. As it turned out, I really didn’t. Last winter was hard. Living in a tiny house in the perpetual rain is miserable. I spent probably twenty-two hours a day on my bed, because it was the only place to sit in Serendipity, and outside was wet. The other two hours were walking Sophie in the rain and/or playing ball with Sophie in the rain. All those extra pairs of shoes were because my feet were constantly wet.

Did Arcata have good points that mostly outweighed the weather? Absolutely.

But am I happy to be back in the land of sunshine? Also, absolutely.



When Life Gives You Lemons…

The coaster Christina left on my bedside table says, “When life gives you lemons, say, ‘Fuck the lemons.’

I like it. It might be my new motto as I merrily make lemonade from my lemons.

When I was driving cross-country, I had an odd and random moment of panic about my coasters. I had three different types of coasters; two soft ones that sat on top of my fridge; two hard porcelain ones that had been tucked into a drawer for a while; and one long plastic one that I mostly used, but which had been a gift from Suzanne. When I was cleaning out, picking which of my possessions got to join me on my journey and which would be relegated to the free pile at the end of the driveway, I remember thinking that I shouldn’t get rid of all of my coasters, but I’m pretty sure I did anyway. Random panic: what would I do without a coaster for my morning tea? Then I remembered that Christina has loads of coasters and would be happy to lend me one, and probably even happier to buy me one for a Christmas present, and I relaxed.

Yes, I know it was a weird thing to be worrying about. But driving cross-country, when you are an innately anxious person, gives you so, so, so much time to worry about random things and invent imaginary problems and make mountains out of molehills.

Still, it was my 8th time driving across the country and I’ve learned a few things. First, as much as possible, pick the scenic route. I spent Thursday and Friday driving from PA to FL, and I decided to take the longer route through West Virginia in order to avoid D.C., my absolute least favorite city to drive through. (Granted, I have never driven through NYC, and LA and Houston are both extremely tedious in their own right — if I’d gone through any of those three a few more times, they might take D.C.’s place at the top.) But it was such a good decision! The fall foliage was spectacular. I was on my own so couldn’t take photos, being, you know, too busy driving the car, but day one turned into a 12-hour driving day because I couldn’t find a pet-friendly hotel and yet I have no regrets. Driving through beauty is much better for the soul than driving through traffic.

Second, it always gets harder toward the end. In the beginning, when the whole journey is before you, it’s easy to make the sensible decisions: to find healthy food, get out and stretch, take good walks, look for interesting breaks. But when the end starts to get in sight — only fifteen more hours of driving to go! — the impulse to just stay in the car, eat candy and junk food, and keep driving is hard to resist. I take a certain amount of pride in my ability to find interesting food, but we ate at Chipotle and Panera in Ohio and western PA. I just wasn’t willing to add the driving time necessary to get off the highway and go someplace better. (That said, my Panera salad was actually just as good as the similar salad I’d gotten at a much more interesting restaurant in Indianapolis earlier.)

Third, holy cow, drive a hybrid. We got to PA, unloaded the rental car, and stashed about a third of my belongings in my brother’s basement, joining my mom’s china and some Christmas ornaments I’d forgotten about, plus a slew of old photos and journals. Then I loaded up my brother’s old Prius with the rest of my stuff and headed south. With the exception of my very first cross-country trip, with my dad in my old Honda Civic back in 2006, every trip I’ve made was in the van or an SUV. I’m used to filling up the gas tank twice a day. With the Prius, I drove 800 miles on about 16 or 17 gallons of gas. And cheap gas, too! East coast gas prices are amazing compared to California.

Sophie Sunshine was a phenomenal companion. She mostly sat upright in the back seat, watching out the window. When she needed something, she’d either rest her head on my shoulder or nuzzle the side of my face. I’d get off at the next rest stop and she’d take a quick walk, maybe have a drink or some food, and off we’d go again. For such an active dog, she got an absolutely minimal amount of real exercise, but she put up with it incredibly well.

The BBE was an even better companion. On the beginning of our trip, I decreed that every day needed to include something beautiful, something funny, and something delicious. I figured beautiful would always be easy; delicious might be a matter of interpretation (we could always fall back on a sea-salt chocolate caramel from Trader Joe’s, if necessary); and funny might be challenging, given my state of mind. But when we talked about cheese varieties in Ohio the BBE laughed so hard he cried, and the Penn’s Best trucks with a very unfortunate design choice in the second N made me giggle every time. (The metal bar from the door cuts through the second N, covering the second upright line, making it easily misread as an I.) Really, it’s a mindfulness game, about paying attention to the day you’re in, noticing those things as they happen, but it meant that every day included moments of joy. As they should, in a well-lived life, but sometimes it’s hard to remember to look for them. The BBE made it easy.

I’m so grateful to have my brother. So grateful to have Christina, too! I’m ensconced in her cozy guest room typing right now, while I watch her dog, Riker, trying to convince Sophie to play. Sophie’s not quite doubtful, but she’s not quite sure about him, either. His tail is going non-stop, while she is debating whether to hide or not.

I won’t move into my new home until the first, but we visited yesterday and I unloaded the majority of my belongings into my future room. The house is cute, and the backyard is fantastic. Huge and open! Christina told me that J is excited to have a dog to play ball with in the backyard, so that’s really nice, too, because Sophie Sunshine will play with anyone willing to throw a ball for her.

This morning she and I were up early, just as the sun was rising, and we walked to the park at the end of Christina’s street and played ball for a bit, then took the same walk I used to take with Zelda. Sophie was off-leash for the vast majority of it, then spotted a cat and took off after it. Grr… she came back reasonably promptly when called, but she got to be on-leash after that. In PA, she saw her first ever squirrel and alas, I am not sexier than a squirrel. She chased it right across the road and only came back to me when it had run up a tree. Still, it was delightful to have her off-leash for most of our walk and discover that even without sidewalks, she’s pretty good at paying attention and being responsive. And my belief that nowhere in FL allows off-leash dogs has been immediately disproven — both parks on our morning walk have signs saying, “Please clean up after your dog,” but neither has a sign saying “Dogs must be on-leash.” So we played ball with the ball I had in my pocket and next time I’ll bring the chuck-it. I’m also going to explore some sniffspots with her: she may never be able to run free on a beach again, but I’ll find places where she can roam. Fuck the lemons, but you know, lemonade is nice, too. Actually, I quite like a lot of things that one can do with lemons.

So this post is feeling kinda like an incoherent mess, but it’s almost time for the farmer’s market in downtown Sanford. We won’t walk there, but it’s a quick drive. Later today, I’m going to make a to-do list: I think it’s going to be a mile long — new vet, new dentist, change address, get driver’s license, etc. etc. etc. — but one thing at a time, right? On yesterday’s long drive, so many Cici scenes were running through my head, I want to try to at least get scraps of those written down, too. So much to do! Fortunately, I have plenty of time to take care of ALL the things.

dog gazing out window

Sophie Sunshine, peacefully gazing out the car window. I kept thinking she’d be sleeping in the backseat, but almost every time I glanced back, she was wide awake and watchful.




And then the story took another turn…

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning in our hotel in New Castle and couldn’t fall back to sleep, because my brain just would not quit. Spin, spin, spin, with thoughts of the past and the future, destinations and days, betrayals and bizarre behavior. I was resigned to it, then annoyed with myself, then finally gave up and got my iPad out. 

Sophie, that traitor, had spent the night snuggling with the BBE, but hopped back over to my bed when I sat up, so I stroked her with one hand while I played solitaire with the other and considered my future. 

I kept telling myself that it was pointless to worry. Live in the moment you’re in, I reminded myself. I’m in the midst of an epic road trip, and there’s nothing I can do about all the things that I need to do, so why think about them?


My brain, however, was not onboard with the live-in-the-moment plan, so I just had to keep reminding myself, over and over, that that’s what I was doing. Being mindful, taking deep breaths, admiring beauty, living in the now. Appreciating my coffee and my dog and the BBE, being grateful.  The worries or the ruminations would start and I would catch myself and remind myself to breathe. Just breathe, that’s all I needed to do. Especially because the BBE was doing all the driving. 

New Castle is almost three hours outside Denver, and there was an expo in Denver that the BBE wanted to go to, since we were in the area. He’d hoped to get there when it opened at 10, but we were running late before we even began, so it was more like 11 when we arrived. He left me in the parking lot, saying he’d be back in fifteen minutes, maybe half an hour, and I promptly called Christina. 

Sophie Sunshine, such a good dog, had had only the most basic of walks — a five minute stroll around a hotel parking lot — but she curled up in a patch of sun on the driver’s seat, while Christina and I chatted. For an hour and 21 minutes! The BBE found more at the expo to interest him than he’d expected to and Sophie was completely peaceful, so we just kept talking. I’m sure I was not particularly coherent through chunks of the call — it’s all happened so fast and Suzanne’s behavior is so profoundly weird to me — but it was a really great call. So good to hear Christina’s voice, to know of the welcome that is waiting for me, to have her say how happy she’s going to be to see me. 

Our phone call was almost over when she mentioned, almost casually, that her friend J’s roommate had moved out and there might be a room available in his house and she thought his landlady would be okay with a dog. Did I want her to check whether it was still available? 

“Yes, please,” I squeaked. 

I’ll short story the rest: yes, there was a room available in his house, and yes, his landlady is okay with dogs, and yes, I’ve already sent her the security deposit, the pet deposit, and the rent for November. So I’m still on the road and it will be days before I get to Florida, but when I do, I have a home. In fact, I have a home with a fenced-in yard for Sophie, a park down the street, a housemate I like, really good friends living within walking distance, and my dad and stepmom less than an hour away. 

Do I feel like the universe is rewarding me for my decision to take the higher road? Um, yeah, I do. 

Obviously, the rent is real rent, not the discount rent for an “awesome” friend (hahahaha), so a job/improving my cash flow is next on the agenda, but… well, first I have to make it through Kansas. And Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a bunch more states, actually. It’s still a long way to Florida. So I’m going to return to my mindful approach, as best I can. 

But my officially homeless period is officially over. (Technically, I paid the rent on Serendipity through the month of October, and have started my new rent in Florida on November 1, so it didn’t actually exist at all, but it felt like it lasted a long… two and a half days. Ha.) 

As for road trip stories: we ate lunch at a place called JustBE Kitchen in downtown Denver, sitting outside on their patio with Sophie Sunshine watching intently. I was highly distracted, texting with my new landlady, but I had a delicious paleo burger and some outstanding lavender lemonade. Afterwards we walked around a nearby park with some running water. The weather was perfect — 60 degrees and sunny — and Denver was filled with people walking their dogs. I’ve passed through Denver before, but never walked around, and it was surprisingly appealing. It felt like a very clean city, with a lot of accessible nature. 

Mostly, though, we’re just driving. Well, the BBE is driving. I’m sitting next to him, writing. But we’re through the mountains, onto the plains, and getting close to Kansas. 

I feel like Sophie deserves some major off-leash time for being such a terrific companion this morning, so I’m going to stop writing and start looking for dog friendly parks. So far we’ve had incredible luck in finding great places for her to run around — last night’s dog park in Grand Junction was huge and she had the small dog enclosure entirely to herself — so fingers crossed, Kansas will be just as good. I’ll keep you posted!

Sophie, looking up at the BBE adoringly, at the park in Salt Lake City. I’m uploading this at a hotel in Hays, Kansas, where we’ve stopped for the night after some salty but tasty Mexican food, and she is again sleeping on his bed! I’d call her disloyal, but she has good taste — she knows an awesome person when she sees one. 🙂