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

Whew.

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!

Glutened

I gluten-ed myself on Saturday.

Ugh.

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

ceviches

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.

Near Death Experiences on a Sunday Morning

Every morning, Sophie and I go for a walk. When we come home, Sophie eats her breakfast while I make my own breakfast, aka ALL the veggies. Then I eat, quite leisurely, often while catching up on my RSS feed or my email, while she watches me with the intensity of a cat at a mouse hole. Finally, I take my last bite, set my bowl down, and say, “Is it time?”

She says, “Oh, yes, yes, yes, it is, FINALLY!” with dancing dog delight, circles and bouncing and little dashes in front of my feet. I grab my second cup of coffee, and we go into the backyard, where I sit in the far back, next to the fence, with the ChuckIt. She finds her ball and for the next thirty minutes or so, I hurl the ball for her and she retrieves it, while I also enjoy my coffee and do a Japanese lesson or ten. I am pretty sure it’s her favorite time of day.

Today started out no differently.

I threw the ball once, maybe twice, and then heard a sound. A crack. I glanced around me, wondering what it was, and where it came from. Maybe one of the neighbor’s houses?

I heard it again.

Again, I couldn’t tell what it was. Generic crack noise. I looked around, couldn’t see anything that would be causing it.

Sophie, however, was standing on the other side of the big tree in front of me, staring up into the branches.

I looked up, even though I didn’t know how a squirrel could be making that sound. It was definitely not a squirrel-type sound.

I couldn’t see anything.

Again, CRACK.

I got up, ChuckIt in hand, and went over to where Sophie was to see if I could see what she was looking at.

And… CRACK, followed by a second or two of slow motion realization of what was happening, followed by a mad dash away from the tree amid frantic calls of “Sophie, Sophie, with me!”

And then lots of crashing and crackling sounds as the enormous branch breaking off the tree hit the electric wires and took them out, blue sparks flying.

A big branch of a tree

The branch

A tree with a jagged break in the trunk where an enormous branch has broken off

The spot where it broke off

A chair under the big branch with dangling power lines

The chair where I was sitting, with my coffee mug. Note the location of the power lines. (They’re the ones on the ground.)

I’m gonna say that I don’t think the branch would have killed me, unless I’d still been sitting in the chair as it started to come down and made a super bad decision about which way to run. But I think if I’d been a little less curious about what Sophie was looking at and a little slower to react, the electricity from the power lines very well might have.

From beginning to end — from first sound to calling Sophie away — was maybe thirty seconds? Maybe a whole minute, if the time between cracks was longer than I remember.

It was a memorable minute.

I’m trying to find meaning in it — a message from the universe! — but sometimes things don’t have big metaphorical meanings. It’s just lightning. It struck, it missed.

But if it had happened ten minutes earlier, we wouldn’t have been outside. It still would have been one of those, “Wow, crazy,” experiences, but it would not have been a near miss in any way.

And if it had happened ten minutes later, I would have been immersed in a Japanese or Spanish lesson. I wouldn’t have been paying as much attention to Sophie or to strange unidentified background noises.

Death by Duolingo.

Jamie was asleep and missed the whole thing but we laughed together afterwards about what an awful way it would have been to wake up. Dark humor, but ugh, can you imagine?

As it was, my day went on. The electric company came, and eventually the internet company, too. I went and visited my friend Lynda for that cup of coffee I’d missed, plus, as always, good conversation and a little bit of writing time, and then some lunch.

When we got home, Sophie wanted to play ball, of course, so we did, even though the backyard is decidedly no longer fenced. (You can sort of see in the third picture how the fence collapsed under the top of the branch.) Tomorrow the landlord’s dad, Mike, will come over, probably bringing a chainsaw, and start clearing it all away. I’m hoping he’ll decide to fix the fence, not just tear it down, but either way, I’m sure Sophie and I will still be playing ball back there.

I will probably not, however, be sitting under the power lines when we do.

Beach Day

Friday was the first beach day of 2024. Beach days in Sanford are very different from beach days in Arcata, because the beaches themselves are so different. But I love the ocean and any day that includes some time near the ocean is a good day, IMO.

C & G picked me up a little before noon. I was extremely well prepped, with my sunshine-y beach chair, my insulated water bottle, my towel, my multiple forms of sunscreen, and some snacks (all birthday presents from C, G, and J, with the exception of the snacks.) Oh, and also some headphones so I could listen to the new Taylor Swift album, and, of course, my phone with Blink camera app so I could check in on poor Sophie.

beach chairs with the ocean in the distance

I’m sure you can guess which chair is mine

Yeah, dogs aren’t allowed on Florida beaches. Instead of this being a “take a long walk with Sophie running free” excursion (which she and I both do miss, quite a lot), this was a “sit in the sun, well-sunscreened, and appreciate the light and the day and the water” excursion, (which I did appreciate, quite a lot.) I wore a bathing suit and went in the ocean up to my knees, but neither the water nor the day was so warm that I felt inspired to actually swim.

Also, I slightly need to get over my knowledge that New Smyrna Beach is the shark attack capital of the world. I know that the numbers are really ridiculously low — only 8 people were bitten by sharks in Volusia County in 2023, and I guarantee, even without looking it up, that a heck of a lot more people were involved in car accidents. And yet…

Afterwards, we went down the street to a restaurant with a patio rooftop and $1 oysters.

the remains of a dozen oysters on the half-shell

The remains of my oysters

Christina and I ordered a dozen oysters each, plus shared a really delicious “pulled pork stack,” which was a mound of sushi rice, topped with pulled pork, a vegetable slaw, pickled red onions, grilled corn, and jalapeños. No picture of the pork stack because I didn’t think to take one until it was long gone, but I would absolutely eat it again.

We spent much of our meal discussing which restaurants in the vicinity might have better GF options, because the place where we were didn’t have a lot, and agreed to try one down the street next time, but honestly, the rooftop bar concept delights me. There’s something about sitting up high with a view of the tops of the palm trees and the sky that feels magical. I wish I’d thought to take a picture — actually I did think to take a picture, but I couldn’t find a view that really captured the essence of how it feels. I know it’s something about the palm trees, but it’s also that the air is fresher up higher, that it feels more ocean and sunlight, less traffic and dust. And I didn’t spend long searching for the perfect photo op, because it was so much nicer to just BE where I was than to be thinking about where I was and how it looked and whether the light worked, etc.

In other news, back in March of 2023, I mentioned that my dentist in Arcata thought I needed $10,000 worth of dental work and I was looking into dental tourism. I did look into dental tourism and had a whole trip scheduled for February of 2024, where Suzanne and I would drive to Arizona, I’d walk across the border and get my teeth taken care of while she hung out with dogs, then we’d meet up with my brother and a friend of his and hang out in Tucson for a couple weeks, exploring the area and having fun being tourists. Reservations were made, appointments were scheduled. But for obvious reasons, that trip did not happen.

A couple weeks ago, however, I went to a dentist here in Florida, who agreed with my dentist in CA. Unsurprisingly, it wouldn’t be nearly as expensive to do the dental work in FL, but I was still looking at spending the next six months or longer having dental appointments, as well as about $5000. I decided if I was going to spend $5000, I’d rather have an adventure to go with it, and so last week, one of my big projects (and my only successfully completed project) was to research dentists in Costa Rica. I’ve got an appointment, a hotel reservation, and a plane ticket now, so I’ll be heading to Costa Rica for ten days in May. I am both excited and anxious. Obviously, I think it’s going to be fine or I wouldn’t be doing it, but… whee! Solo travel! New country! Foreign language! I’ve added Spanish lessons to my daily Japanese lessons and am hastily trying to remind myself of the basics. I think it’s going to be fun, though. Well, somewhat fun. The major dental work, probably not so much fun.

Sophie has reached the stage of putting her paw on my arm and earnestly staring into my eyes, so it’s time to get my day started. But I woke up this morning with the certainty that today would be an excellent day, so I’m ready to get it started, too. Happy Monday!

Maybe…

… I should just blog more often, rather than less.

I took Sophie down to the Sanford RiverWalk this morning for our morning walk. (Why is it a RiverWalk when it actually runs along Lake Monroe? Because the St. John’s River flows through Lake Monroe. But the walk — currently a five mile multi-use pedestrian trail adjacent to the lake, with plans apparently to make it a 26-mile trail going all the way around the lake — doesn’t ever actually follow the river away from the lake, in either direction. So…? Maybe LakeWalk just doesn’t sound as nice? Ahem. Anyway… )

sunrise over lake monroe, Sanford, FL

The sunrise was beautiful. I don’t think this picture does it justice, but it was so bright, I had to take the picture without looking. Not quite in focus, but you get the idea.

a stretch of trees along the Sanford RiverWalk

This little stretch of trees is often my favorite part of the walk, because it’s a bit of shade and greenery between stretches of unobstructed sunshine. Unobstructed sunshine is, of course, awesome, but not so much when temps are in the 80s. This part feels like a break and there are often cool birds on those structures in the water. Sophie loves it for the squirrels.

the view from a little bridge on the Sanford RiverWalk

This bit of wilderness is usually my goal. It’s around 1.3 miles from where I usually park, so makes for a nice two and a half mile morning walk, and I’m always hoping that I’ll spot an alligator here. But it’s also just a good place to pause, lean on the bridge, and take a few deep breaths, appreciating the moment I’m in.

All of these pictures are more beautiful in their high-resolution, non-Website friendly versions. But I still wanted to save them, as memories of a morning worth savoring.

Bacon Tacos and Tomatillo Salsa Verde for Alice

Bacon tacos (aka pork belly tacos, I suppose, ’cause it’s not really bacon)

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pork belly, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Put the ingredients in a big pot, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the pork is tender and falling apart. It takes at least two hours, maybe closer to four.

About half an hour before you’re ready to eat, uncover and let most of the liquid steam away (ten minutes or so). Shred the pork, if it’s not falling apart enough already, and transfer some of it to a frying pan. Fry it over high heat until it starts to get browned and crispy, while breaking apart any big chunks. Don’t rush it, because the crispy bits are the best.

Transfer it to a paper-towel lined dish, and let the towels absorb some of the fat, like you would with bacon. Cover it with tin foil or stick it in the oven to keep it warm, while you do the same to the rest of the meat. (You’re only doing it in parts because 4 pounds of meat is too much to do at once.)

Serve with corn tortillas and other toppings of your choice. Chopped white onion is great, cilantro is nice, limes and avocados are good, cotija cheese is tasty… but charred tomatillo salsa is the BEST.

That recipe:

Toss at least a pound of husked tomatillos, a white onion (skin removed), a jalapeño (or two), and 1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled and halved crosswise, in a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil, then grill all of it on a medium hot grill until charred, turning as necessary to get a nice char. Let it all cool a little so you don’t burn yourself, then cut the stem off the jalapeños; squeeze the garlic into a food processor and add all the other vegetables, plus some fresh cilantro and 1/4 cup of lime juice, and whir until chunky. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper and maybe more lime juice.

Not the world’s easiest meal, and also probably not the world’s healthiest meal. But a delicious birthday treat meal!

(It almost makes an extremely delicious next day breakfast, reheated in a frying pan and often with the addition of an egg or two.)