Sunshine and swimming pools

I spent Sunday and Monday scrambling to finish my book cover redesign, having discovered (after about six hours of font exploration on Saturday afternoon) that I HAD purchased the font I was using and owned the commercial license for it. Yay!

I very much wanted to finish the job, because the last time I redesigned my covers, I went on vacation, then came home and decided I didn’t like the new covers enough to make the effort of posting them. I didn’t want that to happen again and it easily could have, because I was planning to get on a plane on Wednesday afternoon to visit my dad and friends in Florida. (I don’t think it would have, because I currently really like these covers, but you never know. Maybe in a week I’ll feel differently.)

Except when I looked at my ticket, purchased last summer when fares were cheap, I realized that I was wrong about my dates. It was actually Tuesday afternoon that I was flying to Florida. And when I checked in for my flight on Monday afternoon, United promptly told me that if my plans were flexible, I probably didn’t want to be flying through Denver the next day. I wound up flying out on Tuesday morning through SFO instead, bright and early, working on my covers in the airport. It felt very business-like of me to be working while traveling, but the weird little scramble of leaving 36 or so hours earlier than I expected to be leaving also left me feeling somewhat discombobulated.

the 2023 cover for A Gift of Ghosts

The new cover for A Gift of Ghosts. This one is actually based on a photograph I took, so I’m the photographer, the artist, and the designer. Shine on, me.

Still, I did mostly get my new covers up. I haven’t been able to get all the covers to update: I updated the audiobooks, but those covers still seem to be the old ones, and I haven’t finished updating the translations yet, but I do like the look of the new covers. Are they sensible? Possibly not. A Gift of Luck, in particular, doesn’t exactly scream out its genre. On the other hand, I’ve never really figured out the genre for A Gift of Luck anyway, so possibly just having a really pretty cover will suffice to get some reader clicks. (Also, pragmatically, does it really matter? The fifth book in a series sells based on the first four books in the series, and if a reader likes 1-4, they might continue with 5. It’s not as if anyone is going to discover Luck on its own.)

Cover of A Gift of Luck 2023

I used the same stock photo, just with a lot of filtering, but I really love the new color. Does it say “romantic ghost story?” Probably not. But it’s pretty!

And now I’m luxuriating in Florida sunshine, which is so incredibly nice. And such a good reminder to live in the moment, always. Being in Florida can be hard; there’s always some ruminating about the past involved. And with both friends and family, there’s usually the moment that goes like this:

Friend, tentatively, carefully: So have you heard anything from–

Me, firmly, quickly: No. Not a word.

And then there’s usually a little more conversation than that, whatever form it takes. Sometimes the, “I’m so sorry, that must be so hard,” and sometimes the, “Not since the diatribe about me being a ‘wretched, emotionally stunted creep undeserving of (his) time and energy’,” probably depending on who is more uncomfortable with the ensuing silence, me or the friend in question.

But the conversation doesn’t actually hurt any more than the lack of the conversation: I’m grateful that people care. I feel more loved by the acknowledgement of the pain, even though it hurts, than I do when I feel like he’s been forgotten. It’s funny, though, because I actually think a lot about the future day when I will forget. It will happen. Someday there will be a day when a thought of R never crosses my mind. I suspect it’ll be a busy day, maybe a lot going on, plenty of distractions, a quick falling asleep, no time spent in a car looking into space. Hopefully I’ll be being really productive, super engaged with whatever work I have going on. Maybe it’ll be a sociable day, lots of people coming and going. And it’ll be weird, of course, because when it happens, I won’t notice.

That being the whole point, really: on that future day, whenever it is, there will be never be a moment when a thought or a memory or a feeling or a taste reminds me of R. It hasn’t happened yet, though, or at least I don’t think so. Maybe it did and I missed it. Still, you know what? That day won’t be in Florida. Pretty damn sure I can guarantee that.

But that’s okay. Yesterday I floated in my dad’s community swimming pool, completely alone, watching the clouds overhead as they made different shapes and flowed past, reveling in the sensation of water all around me, sunshine on my face, and feeling, deep-down, all the way to the core of my being, that life is good. Hard, too, yes. Change is inevitable, expectations and reality collide in unexpected ways, growth and decay go hand-in-hand. The flip side of grief is love. Or maybe that should be the flip side of love is grief. I didn’t expect to lose my son the way I did, but if I hadn’t loved him so much, it wouldn’t hurt so much. I don’t think I would trade loving him less for hurting less, really.

And today I get to sit on my friend Lynda’s back porch talking about writing with her, and tomorrow I’ll play board games with Christina and Frisbee and eat bacon tacos, and Monday I will watch my stepsister’s son play soccer and hopefully eat gluten-free pizza with some writing group friends, and Tuesday I get to go the Arts Festival at Epcot, and Wednesday, I will (weather willing!) get to swim one last time and then have a great meal with my dad and stepmom. And Thursday I fly home to Sophie Sunshine. And I’m pretty sure that on every one of those delightful days, I will get to both appreciate and be grateful for the sunshine. Thank goodness. Because sunshine after rain, rain, rain, and more rain, truly is glorious.

Rain and Gratitude

This week has been rain, rain, rain, then some more rain. Getting wet, mostly drying off, then getting wet again. I only failed to reach my depression-recovery walking goal once and still managed over 5,000 steps that day (so 2 miles), which has meant a lot of getting rained on.

Like, a lot.

One morning I forced Sophie into her raincoat (which she disapproves of) because it was pouring, and took her to the nearby park to play ball. When we got there, the rain had stopped, so I took her raincoat off. We played ball for probably five minutes before the rain started again — not nearly long enough, in her opinion — so then we played in the rain for a while longer, at least twenty minutes or so, until it just got ridiculous.

The rain was soaking through my waterproof pants at the seams (perhaps why they were in a thrift store to begin with) and leaking into the crevices in my rain coat — the wrists when I raised my arm to throw the ball, the sides of my neck when I turned into the wind. I rounded Sophie up and we headed home, and just about as we reached our street, I realized I didn’t have her raincoat anymore. Ugh.

I went back to the park, giving up on the hood of my raincoat because I was moving against the wind, and just letting myself get drenched. I found her raincoat, of course — no one else was out in the torrential downpour looking for lost things — but by the time we made it home, the interior of my lovely raincoat was damp from all the water that had come in through the hood. It’s stayed vaguely damp ever since, mostly because it gets wet every couple of hours. Sophie, unsurprisingly, does not care that it’s raining. Miss Energizer Bunny needs her exercise and ball-time, regardless of the weather.

Actually, it’s not quite true that she doesn’t care that it’s raining. She gives me Looks at the door when she sees the water hitting the patio surface. Sometimes she will sigh impatiently and retreat back under the bed. Mostly, though, she says, “But I need to RUN! Why have you arranged this so badly?” and we go out anyway. Me, I miss Florida and our swimming pool, which was the world’s best dog hamster wheel/treadmill.

Only because of the rain, though. Mostly I really love Arcata. I walked to the marsh the other day — in the rain, of course, but it had stopped by the time we got there — and saw the loveliest sight; a flock of birds, spiraling around the water outside the marsh. A murmuration, although it probably wasn’t composed of starlings.

Still, the Cambridge English dictionary uses this sentence as its example sentence for the word: “Starling murmurations are one of the most dazzling displays in the natural world.” Dazzling is an excellent word for it. Breathtaking would work, too. It was so beautiful that I could hardly believe what I was seeing. And it was literally just down the street. (I posted a video to Instagram, which you can see in the sidebar of the blog if you don’t use Instagram or follow me there.)

Also literally down the street: a new coffee shop that makes things like rosemary cardamom lattes. So good! Also not something I need to have in my life in so many ways, ha. I really must become a more productive worker some day soon, so that I can afford to buy myself rosemary cardamom lattes on a more regular basis. Or not; it’s not like I need the sugar, the caffeine, or the calories. Still, today is Saturday which is farmer’s market day — yes, in the pouring rain, Arcatans are used to bad weather, although this is a little extreme even for the natives — and I’m probably going to reward myself for my good vegetable habits with a coffee afterwards.

Speaking of working, I spent my week engaged in one of my very favorite unproductive exercises: redesigning book covers. Did I need to redesign book covers? Well… let’s not go there, shall we? Did I have fun redesigning book covers? I did! It was also frustrating sometimes and tedious sometimes and maddening sometimes, but mostly it was fun.

I won’t post them all here right now, because I haven’t made web versions yet — the file sizes would be annoyingly large for posting — but here’s one of the audiobook covers. (I liked it so much that I shared it with the BBE, therefore already made a small version.)

audiobook cover of A Gift of Time

Looking at it now, I want to go back in and nudge that tag line over a little more — ten pixels to the right! — but I’ll have the chance to, I’m sure. It’s one thing to make the covers: changing all the files and uploading all the new covers is a huge and tedious job. The last time I did a redesign, I wound up never using the new covers because I didn’t like them enough that I could face the job. This time… well, I might have to make one last pass through my 500+ fonts to see if there’s any I like better for the Title font, but…

Oh, bah. I just discovered that the font is free for personal use. $350 if I want to use it for a series of books. Dang it, I didn’t think I had any fonts installed that weren’t allowed for commercial use. Well. Sigh. So, yes, I will be reconsidering my font usage. I’m not opposed to paying for fonts: font designers need to make a living, too. But I’m not sure I love it $350 worth. On the other hand, that’s about the price one might usually pay for a single book cover design. So maybe I should consider it a bargain. Somehow I don’t, though.

Moving on! I was going to write about gratitude today. Because gratitude is over-rated in depression recovery — and that’s not just my opinion. A meta-analysis of 27 studies showed that gratitude exercises, while not bad for you, aren’t much use as a treatment for depression or anxiety. That doesn’t surprise me. I did a regular gratitude exercise for years, the one where you write down three things that you’re grateful for every day, and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions about gratitude.

The first is that some gratitude is actually negative gratitude. And negative gratitude is not healthy. Example: I am grateful to have a roof over my head during this interminable rain. Yes, this is a true gratitude. Absolutely true! I am very grateful. But it’s a negative gratitude, because it makes me think about the unhoused people in Arcata and how they’re surviving, and whether I could be doing more to help people in need, and whether I might someday be unhoused myself, and lo-and-behold, suddenly my gratitude has turned into a depression misery spiral of unpleasant thoughts, self-loathing, fear and anxiety.

The second is that gratitude for things — coffee, a warm blanket, a working computer — tends to go superficial fast. Sure, the first day you write “coffee” in your gratitude journal, you might really be thinking about your coffee. The first day you have coffee after you’ve quit for a while, you might really be grateful for your coffee. When a friend brings you hot coffee after an earthquake when the power is out and you can’t make it yourself, yes, you will definitely be grateful for coffee. But mostly, when you write “coffee” down, you’re not feeling it. It’s just a fill-in-the-blank, generic checkmark on a list. And that’s useless. That checkmark on a list doesn’t change how you feel, doesn’t improve your mood, doesn’t build your resilience. It’s a placebo, not a cure.

Does that mean that gratitude is bad? Nope, not at all. But it’s not intrinsically useful for recovering from depression, either. It’s too easy — especially when you’re depressed — for your moment of gratitude to go awry.

Appreciation, on the other hand, is golden. But it’s also more work. And since this blog post has randomly gotten quite long, I’ll write more about it later. Soon, though! I haven’t forgotten that I also want to write about mindfulness, although maybe that will fit in nicely with appreciation. They’re not quite the same thing, but they sure have a lot in common. First, though — some veggie hash, a dog walk, the farmer’s market, a delicious coffee, some Brazilian cheese bread and board games, and maybe a few hours of looking through fonts. Rather more carefully, checking the licenses before I create 7 new covers this time around. $350, ugh. I am not grateful.

 

Me, Not Me

I was in the McKinleyville Safeway the other day when the line got a little stuck because the guy in front of me wanted to know what had happened to his $10 off on a $10 purchase e-coupon. It turned out that you can’t include alcohol in the purchase total, so the case of Pabst Blue Ribbon (along with other things, already bagged) that he’d bought hadn’t made his total high enough. He walked back behind me, examined the candy rack, and grabbed a pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. He tossed it on the conveyor belt and the cashier rang it up for him. It was just enough to push him over that total, and knock $10 off his bill.

The cashier said something to him like, “There you go, $10 off.”

I said, “Plus you get a treat. Total deal.”

He said, “Yeah, it’ll go great with all my vegetables.”

Vegetables? I… kinda didn’t think that he had any vegetables. Not that I’d looked at what he was buying. I’d been looking in my own Safeway app to see if I’d missed anything I wanted.

But then I looked at my own groceries: brown rice, cucumber, broccoli slaw, micro greens, green onions.

I think just possibly he was being sarcastic. Just possibly. For some reason, it made me laugh and it still amuses me when I remember it. I don’t think of myself as a brown rice and healthy vegetables person, but perhaps I am.

At the time, Suzanne and I were on our way home from a morning walk on one of our local beaches. It was not so much of a walk for Sophie and me because the tide was really high. It was still at least an hour away from high tide, maybe more, but the surf was splashing all the way up to the dunes.

Foam touching the dunes on the beach
I’m quite sure I didn’t really need to worry about Sophie being swept out to sea by the oncoming waves, but she sure looks tiny when a wave crashes over her. And she’s willing to chase her ball wherever it goes, including out into the ocean if necessary. We had fun playing despite the tide, but I wasn’t willing to go too far away from the path to the parking lot, so it wasn’t much of a walk.

Later in the day, it rained and rained and rained. But Sophie didn’t care. She still wanted to go out. I put on my waterproof REI pants and my NorthFace raincoat (thank you, Bend thrift stores!) and took her to Creamery Field and played ball with her in the rain. While we were there, the BBE called. I happened to be wearing my phone headset so I could listen to music, my phone safely zipped into my dry pocket, so I chatted with him while still playing with Sophie in the rain. Eventually, the rain stopped and I wound up feeling a lot like a toddler on a winter playground, all bundled up for no reason, or maybe the Stay-puft Marshmallow Man. Still I was remarkably dry.

Sophie wearing a raincoat

Sophie does not agree that her raincoat is necessary. But she does look awfully cute in it!

On the way home, though, I felt like I’d failed myself by not doing any real walking during the day. Then I looked at my phone’s step count: 8,777 steps. For most of 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, that would have made the day one of the high step counts of the month. Go, me. Shine on, self. I don’t think of myself as a walker, but I’m doing some great walking.

I was thinking about that Loge demographic question, again, too. Loge, the hotel we stayed at in Bend, is meant for the “outside-adventure focused.” That’s not me. Except… I spent four years or so camping? One of the reasons I live where I live is because there’s such great outside space around here, beaches and forest and the marsh. And my favorite vacations have included sailing or kayaking or hiking. I think I might be a little more outdoor-adventure focused than I imagine myself to be.

There’s a great book by Kyra Bobinet, called Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy, and Purposeful Life. She writes about how our self-image gets in the way of change. She says that our ideas about “me” are a comfort zone, the place that feels safe even when it’s unhealthy, and that change makes us feel groundless and uncomfortable, so we resort to self-defense and revert to old behavior. It’s the “me” immune system. And — the thing that made me think about this book again and look for my notes on it —  aspirational changes, ie making choices based on who you want to be, tend to not work. 

If I’d said, “I want to be an outdoor-adventure focused person,” I would have laughed and dismissed the idea immediately. Nope, I am a sedentary reader type person. Libraries and bookstores, those are my natural habitat. If I’d said, “I want to be a brown rice and vegetables person” — well, who would say that? Who would want to be that person? I’d much rather be a Brazilian cheese bread person. Except, you know, that it’s awesome to feel healthy and happy, and that goes with the vegetable-heavy diet, not the Brazilian cheese bread diet. And if I tried to tell myself that I was a walker, I am pretty sure my belief in my own innate laziness would immediately rear its head and scoff at me. Except… I like walking. I particularly like walking when I’m outside, in nature, looking at beautiful things, breathing clean air, and wearing comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing. (I am not such a fan of walking in Florida humidity, wearing sandals, and waving off mosquitoes.)

Anyway, I’ve now lost the point of this post. Except to say that despite the never-ending rain, I hope today will include a really good walk, and that I’m looking forward to adding some broccoli slaw to my morning hash. I wish I could magically wave my wand and change my self-image from “very light, very restless sleeper with regular insomnia” to “solid sleeper, easily getting seven hours of restful sleep every night” but that’s a bit more challenging. I’ll keep working on it, though. Because I like the idea of a “me” who is healthy and happy and I think my self-image can expand to include that.

Goodbye 2022 & Hello 2023

One last Winter Wonderland Adventure note: I forgot to mention two trips to Mud Bay Pet Supply, a really nice Bend pet store chain, and one trip to a grocery store that was so wildly over-priced that we walked out with nothing but the oat milk we needed for coffee. Not that I need to tell you absolutely everything we did during every moment of the WWA, but I write mostly for Future Me, and I do want to remember Mud Bay, because it was excellent. Dog treats for $3.99/lb, and I wish I’d known that Sophie would like them, because I would have gotten many more of them. Next time! 

Meanwhile, I did want to write about New Year’s, both looking back and looking forward, before we get so far away from the beginning of the year that it’s just silly. And so, yet another blog post from me this week. I promise the proliferation will slow down soon. 

Looking back, my 2022 goals… well. Not so successful! For 2022, I gave myself projects instead of resolutions. I spent two days organizing some of the 1341 books on my Kindle and created three collections: 2022 Fiction Reading Project, 2022 Learning Project, and 2022 Cooking Project. My goal was to read the 36 books in the fiction collection, the 20 books in the learning collection, and to actually use my 46 cookbooks by cooking recipes from them.

Spoiler alert: my projects were a total fail. 

I read, or fully rejected, 14 books from the fiction project, 2 books from the learning project, and cooked not a single recipe from my cookbooks. Oops. Also, I now have 1419 books on my Kindle, so instead of getting rid of books, I added 78 new ones. The vast majority of those were probably free or .99 books, but still.

That said, while I didn’t read those books that I intended to read, Kindle Reading Insights tells me that I read 285 titles in 2022. I don’t know whether that includes Kindle Unlimited titles, but I assume it does. It doesn’t include library books, however, so it doesn’t actually represent my total reading. 

Speaking of which, I got a great email from Amazon about my Kindle Unlimited reading. Let’s see if I can take a readable screenshot of it. a chart from KU Check it out: 173 books; 4431 hours spent reading; and over 80,000 pages read; BUT that’s more pages than only 96.2% of Kindle Unlimited members.

3.8% of KU members read more than me!

I read that and thought, “Holy cow, there are people who read more than I do?! How do I find them? They are my tribe, my people, clearly destined to be my best friends.” 

And then I realized, I was in KU for only six months of the year. In six months, I read more than 96.2% of KU members did in 12 months. So, if my reading for twelve months (including library reading) had been considered, that 3.8% of the population who read more than me would disappear. That explains why I’ve never met any of them.

KU is a definite bargain for me, though: the email went on to say that the total value of books I read via KU was $800. Of course, I wouldn’t have purchased a lot of those books, so I wouldn’t have spent $800 if I didn’t have KU, but still, it was a pretty good deal for those six months. Except, perhaps, for the fact that when I went looking for what I would consider the best book I read in 2022, I couldn’t come up with one. I read a lot of mediocre books. Which is fine, really — it’s what I did instead of watching mediocre television or doom-scrolling or spending hours on social media, so no regrets — but I didn’t read much that I loved in 2022.

I am a bit dubious about that hour total, too. Shall we do the math? KU thinks that I read for 4431 hours. Divide by 24, and we get 184.625. That’s the number of DAYS the Kindle app thinks I spent reading, which means the software thinks I literally spent half of my year reading. Twelve hours a day, every day. No, I did not. Five hours a day is plausible, given that I read in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening; maybe even six or seven hours some days… well, actually, when I was sick back in June, I definitely had days when I did nothing but read. Still, I think it’s just counting time that the app is open on my devices, not time that I’m actually reading. The 80,000 pages is totally plausible, though. That’s 219 Kindle pages a day, and sure, I did that.

And wow, I have gotten distracted. Where was I going? Oh, right. Resolutions and projects and goals. The ending of one year, the beginning of another, a time to reflect and assess and plan.

In 2020 and 2021, I had focus words instead of resolutions. In 2020, my words were Create, Appreciate and Learn, and they worked really well for me. I said about them at the end of the year, “Despite the challenges of the year — or maybe because of them? — I did a great job with my focus words. They literally gave me something to focus on when it felt like the world was falling apart.” In 2021, I got more complicated and my words worked much less well. I didn’t blog about it at the end of the year, so can’t link, but I started the year with an acronym, GRACE, for Gratitude, Reading, Art, Cooking, and Exercise, but had stopped even trying to track those things long before the year was over. I’m pretty sure they fell apart soon after Zelda died, which was in January. Not that I didn’t read and cook during the year, but I stopped doing an evening reflection, where I looked back on my day and how it had gone.

So for 2023, obviously, I’m living my Depression Recovery Plan, so in some sense, I’ve been working on resolutions for six weeks already: sleep seven hours or more; eat ten vegetables or more; walk for 7500-8000 steps or more. Ta-da! Resolutions, right?

But they feel somehow dissatisfying. I absolutely do intend to try to do those three things every day for the rest of my life, but they don’t reflect what I want my 2023 to be. Except, you know, healthy, but that’s kind of boring, isn’t it?

I was in the park the other day, throwing the ball for Sophie, and a friend texted me with a question that was going to be mildly complicated to answer with the single hand available to type on my phone (since the other hand was holding the Chuckit launcher). So I did a radical thing, clicked on the phone icon, and actually called her. (We’ve been friends for closing in on ten years; I’ve spent the night at her house more than once; I try to see her every time I get to Florida; and this might have been the second time we’ve spoken on the phone. Gotta love the 21st century.)

During the course of our conversation, while we were talking about our writing goals for the year, I was rather inarticulately stumbling around an idea I had about my own writing, about how I get stuck and how I want to move past that stuck-ness this year, and I finally found the word “playful.” I told her I wanted my writing to be playful, to worry less about plotting, and fulfilling expectations, and turning points, and just… play. With my characters, with the words, with the stories.

After I hung up the phone, I was thinking more about playful and what it means to be playful and how playful shows up or doesn’t show up in my life. Sometimes I’m “playing” with Sophie, but it feels like a responsibility, not a joy. Sometimes I’m “playing” a game on my iPad or computer, but it feels like an addiction, not a pleasure.  Meanwhile, I like playing games with actual other human beings — card games and board games, not sports — but I rarely take the initiative to make that happen. I don’t like feeling competitive, but I do enjoy playing.

And, in this thinking, I also realized, this is what I want in 2023. I want a playful year. I want to remember when I’m playing with Sophie that it is an incredible blessing to get to have fun with this dog, and I want to let go of video games that don’t feel playful to me, and I want to play more in my writing and in my attitude to making art and in my life. Even maybe in my cooking.

PLAYFUL. 

That’s my focus word for 2023, the centerpiece of what I want this year to be.

Oh, and one teeny-tiny resolution to go with it: no checking the time in the middle of the night. If it’s dark, it’s still time to be sleeping, and I don’t need to know whether it’s 10PM or midnight or 1 AM or 3AM to make that decision. Just go back to sleep, self.

 

WWA, Part 3

I believe it was the ice on Friday morning, not the snow on Thursday, that caused me to say to Suzanne when I returned to the room after a quick walk with pups, “Not only am I not willing to drive anywhere this morning, I’m not willing to get into a car that someone else is driving either.”

Fortunately, we didn’t need to drive to have fun with the dogs. We ate our slightly more filling breakfasts (baked goods from McKay, purchased the day before) and then headed out to Good Dog Trail again, this time along the paved running path instead of the iced over dirt trail. It was cold, somewhat overcast, and glorious.

icy landscape

The iced over path, and the beautiful clouds.

My phone tells me we walked about 2.7 miles in the morning, and I think I enjoyed pretty much every step. It felt so invigorating, so inspiring to be outside and moving. Suzanne and I didn’t talk much as we walked and our paces were uneven, sometimes me ahead when Riley (on leash, because he is prone to disappearing) had to pause to sniff, often Suzanne ahead because she generally walks faster than I do. But it felt like a great combination of a companionable walk, and also a solitary walk.

And I was rather euphoric. I know it’s a symptom, but it’s also really fun. I spent a lot of the walk singing Christmas carols in my head. Not the secular ones, but the traditional religious variety — Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful — the ones that are about celebrating, about gratitude, about the emotional rejuvenation of believing that God sent his child to save us all. Rejoicing, that’s the word I’m looking for. I was mentally singing the songs about rejoicing, as I walked through the winter forest rejoicing that I got to be there, thankful to be breathing and seeing and appreciating and feeling. And yelling at my dog every now and then, but mostly loving that she could be running so free and exploring so fully. 

By the time we went back to Loge, the plows were out, the roads were clearer, and I was again willing to go places that required driving. Our first destination was lunch, for which we’d chosen a restaurant called Spork. In a week of excellent meals, it was outstanding, as in I think Suzanne chose it as her favorite of the week, and for me it came in second only to Vida (the Brazilian cheese bread). We both had the same meal, the spicy fried chicken with cucumber salad. It was much closer to General Tso’s chicken then southern fried chicken, but it was delicious. Chinese food is pretty much completely eliminated if you’re gluten-free (soy sauce has wheat in it), so I was perfectly happy to be eating GF General Tso’s chicken even though it wasn’t quite what I expected. Hmm, my mouth is watering again.

As we ate, we discussed our afternoon plans. Suzanne was feeling mildly discontented with her Bend shopping. She hadn’t found a single thing at Goodwill and her REI purchases weren’t as exciting as my shoes. So we decided to do a little more thrift store shopping, and then find another place to play with the dogs.

I didn’t really feel the need to do more shopping: my new parka wasn’t quite the rain jacket I’d been imagining but it was clearly waterproof, so it would do. But I’m always happy to visit a thrift store or two. I’ll summarize: we went to two thrift stores, one called ReGroup and another called Super Thrift, and I had the most amazing thrift store luck. Poor Suzanne had the kind of thrift store luck that goes like this:

Suzanne: Look at this great X. Dang, it’s too small for me.

Me: Should fit me fine. I’ll take it. 

I spent a total of under $60 and got two long sleeved layering shirts, a black tank top, a t-shirt, a cute jacket with a fleece hood ($6), and the real scores: waterproof REI rain pants ($6); Walking Company boots, similar to this style and looking almost new ($12); black Levis ($8), and, best of all, a North Face rain jacket in a deep gray with a light teal interior ($11).

The rain jacket was the last thing I found and it was so fun. In the moment between pulling it off the rack and trying it on, Suzanne was already shaking her head at the impossibility of my thrift store luck. It would have served me right if it didn’t fit, but in fact, it fits perfectly. And it is exactly the jacket I was hoping to find for Arcata weather — perfect at about 50 degrees and actually truly waterproof, not just water-resistant. (The walking part of my 3-part depression recovery plan doesn’t include exceptions for rainy days and it rains a ton in Arcata.)

Suzanne did find a few things for herself, too, including a cute jacket and a vest that I would have sworn she already owned, it looked so right on her. But the weather was getting dubious again, so instead of looking for a new place for a dog adventure, we headed back to the hotel. We left Riley to snooze on the bed, and took the puppies back to Good Dog.

The weather was a bit more foreboding, and I did not want to wind up lost in the woods in the dark during a freezing rain storm, despite my great parka, so I kept a careful eye on the time, but we wandered around the Good Dog area for another 3.5 miles according to my phone. That distance turned Friday, December 30th, into my top walking day of the year, with 7.2 miles. It also was just enough mileage to give me a moderately silly and yet gratifying achievement: an average of 2 miles a day for 2022.

forest with gray sky

The overcast sky implied more weather on its way.

Back in the beginning of 2022, I wanted to walk 2 miles a day with at least one day a week of a longer walk. And then things happened; winter rain, COVID, whatever was wrong with me in June. My average for the first half of the year was closer to 1.5 miles a day than 2. But my average for December — the month in which I really started my depression recovery plan — was 3.8. It was enough to pull my average for the year up.  So, moderately silly to be pleased that a New Year’s resolution of 2022 that I totally ignored during the year, I actually fulfilled by the end of year, but still… gratifying.

The predicted freezing rain hadn’t started by the time we made it back to the hotel, so we bundled the dogs into the car and headed out for our last meal in Bend, after deciding to make it a “nice” one. Why is “nice” in quotes? Well, we were splurging, choosing a place that was expensive, sit-down instead of counter service, a little on the fancy side. And sadly, disappointing. I ordered the albacore tuna bowl with seared tuna, avocado, baby kale, black rice, cucumber, pickled veg, and miso vinaigrette. It was fine, I guess, but bland, and a couple of my avocado slices were so browned that I actually picked them out and left them on the small plate. The service was so uninspired that the waitress either didn’t notice that I’d picked out the brown avocado or maybe was just too grateful that I wasn’t complaining about it to acknowledge noticing it. But you know, I would be annoyed if Chipotle tried to feed me rotting avocado, much less a place charging me $21 for the privilege. We also each ordered the $12 cake for dessert, and were surprised that it was served cold. It would have been great warmed up, but cold it tasted a lot like fudge and carelessness and food that was obviously straight from a package, not from an actual kitchen. Lackluster, that’s the word that best describes the Boxwood Kitchen. Would definitely not eat there again. It’s fun to try new places, but both Suzanne and I wished we’d just gone back to Spork instead.

That perhaps influenced our Saturday decisions, however. Our original plan had been to go to Mount Shasta for the night, then home on Sunday, but we’d been keeping an eye on the weather and road conditions, and had already concluded that the drive home would be a lot more pleasant if it did not include California highways. Possibly even a lot more successful if it didn’t include California highways because that atmospheric river weather seemed to be closing roads all over the place. Instead, we were going the Ashland route again. And we were eating at all the familiar, fantastic restaurants!

We went back to McKay Cottage for breakfast (delicious, again); to the Awbrey Reservoir Off-leash Dog Area for dog romping; stopped at Pearsony Falls in Prospect for dog leg stretching (on leash, so no romping); and made it to Ashland in time to get to Vida before it closed. Then the Ashland dog park again for some more dog romping.

dog and small waterfall

Sophie, saying, “Sure, it’s nice water, but could we get to the ball-playing part of this excursion?” Sadly for her, there was no ball playing there. Happily for her, we got to the Ashland Dog Park in time for plenty of playing.

I called my dad from Awbrey Reservoir to wish him a happy birthday, remembering only then that I had specifically brought a pen with me so that I could send him a postcard from Bend. Alas, my pen went unused. Sorry, Dad, I am a postcard sending failure.

And I spent a fair amount of the drive thinking about He Who Shall Not Be Named, (not the Voldemort version,) who was also born on New Year’s Eve. But it didn’t impair my mood much. Mostly I thought about the birthdays that he probably doesn’t remember, like the year I invited his entire classroom to his birthday party, confident in the knowledge that some wouldn’t be able to make it, because of the holiday. They all did, and some brought siblings. New Year’s Eve, not a holiday on which parents of kindergarteners are busy, ha. Or the time we were on a cruise ship on his birthday, or the year that we searched for an armadillo on the world’s longest drive to the beach. (Stuck in traffic.) But I also mentally wished him well, hoping that he finds peace and happiness and joy in his chosen life and chosen family. And not once did I have to fight the temptation to reach out to him, which felt really healthy. In my Choosing Happiness memoir, which I’m not really writing, I admit that my last words to him (currently “Get a life and stop wasting your time reading your estranged mother’s blog”) are probably not the last words I would like to go down in parenting history with, but, you know, so it goes. At least they don’t include any obscenities or insults, which they easily could have. I will not be aspiring to sainthood any time soon.

And moving on, Sunday morning we ate our delicious leftover Brazilian cheese bread treats and headed back to Arcata. We visited the Phoenix dog park on the way, picked up coffees at Starbucks in Crescent City, stopped for a bathroom break at the Trees of Mystery, and admired some truly beautiful landscapes along the way. Oregon was delightful, but the crashing waves of the northern California coast honestly just can’t be beat for beautiful views.

And it’s good to be home. I love my cozy tiny house. It’s feeling a little cluttered at the moment — can a person who lives in approximately 100 square feet really own nine coats? I am not so sure — but it was immensely satisfying to make my veggie hash this morning.* I am really optimistic that 2023 is going to be a wonderful year. Well, of course I am; hypomania is a very, very pleasant state in which to be starting a year. Optimism unlimited!

Happy New Year!

*Red onion, carrots, parsnips, white sweet potato, yam, red cabbage, green cabbage, black beans, cilantro, tomatoes, black olives, kale, chard, spinach, lime juice, serrano pepper sauce, green onion, and some cheddar jack cheese. Am I trying to make up for lost veggie opportunities? Maybe! 

Oops & Winter Wonderland Adventure, Part Two

Oops! I accidentally posted my previous post before I’d finished it. I was checking that the pictures were posting correctly and hit Publish, instead of Save Draft. That’s why the abrupt ending. But it was getting long anyway, so instead of continuing to add to it (which email subscribers, ie my dad, wouldn’t see), I’ll just continue with a new post. Thus, welcome to part 2 of the Winter Wonderland Adventure!

The hotel we were staying at in Bend is called Loge and it was, for our purposes, fantastic. Suzanne found it the last time she was in Bend, I think. It’s part of a chain of outdoor-adventure focused hotels, which is not really a demographic that I consider myself part of, but, that said, maybe I’m just wrong about my demographic? Because part of their outdoor-adventure philosophy is that they’re super dog-friendly. Not just dog-tolerant, but dog-welcoming. The rooms have hammocks (beds, too), and lockers for your outside gear, boot-warmers and plenty of coat hooks. And no carpet, so no need to worry about dogs tracking in mud. Plus, all around us were other people with dogs, which makes it far more relaxing to have a dog (or two or three) in a hotel room.

But back to my story: we went to sleep early on Wednesday and we woke up Thursday morning to EXACTLY the winter wonderland that Suzanne had been hoping for. It was snowing, perfect pure powdery snow, big fat flakes falling from the sky. If you use Instagram, I posted a reel of me whistling for Sophie, then finding her by my feet wearing her cute little winter coat, which does a great job of showing the perfect snow. So we started our day with a hike in the snow, walking from our hotel to the Good Dog Trail and wandering for a bit while the snow drifted down from the sky and started piling up in generous heaps.

portrait of a snowy dog

Snowy Sophie

Alas, we were hungry. And I was bordering on hangry by the time we made it back to the hotel, quite annoyed at Miss Sophie’s Sunshine’s belief that if Bear was nearby,  Sophie herself was still with the pack, ergo no real need to respond to my recall whistle. Not true! (We had many chances to practice over the next couple of days, and she started doing much better when the excitement of the snow and the forest wore off.)

We’d snacked a little for breakfast, but we hadn’t gotten real food. So after our walk (not quite two miles, according to my phone) we headed into Bend. First stop, the Ruffwear dog store, just a few minutes away from our hotel. You can’t tell from the above picture, but Sophie’s coat is actually a hand-me-down from Zelda, and it doesn’t fit her as well as I would like. Also, it’s a winter coat, appropriate for snow, and in Arcata, a rain coat would be much more useful. The Ruffwear store didn’t have any post-Christmas bargains, sadly, but I still wound up buying Sophie a nice raincoat and, for me, a belt that can hold a leash, a water bottle, and some treats. It would be perfect if it also had a loop to hold a ChuckIt, but one can’t have everything. And I am now astounded to discover that I never took a picture of Sophie in her cute raincoat. Oh, well. Expect to see one soon!

Back to last Thursday: next up was breakfast. We went to McKay Cottage Restaurant, familiar from previous trips to Bend, and so incredibly good. Also, really organized. We were warned that it would be about a 45 minute wait, but they take your phone number and send you a link to an app where you can watch the waitlist move. And, yes, on a random snowy Thursday, this restaurant had a 45 minute wait at 10AM — that’s how good it is.

I had the Guac n’ Roll, which was avocado, radish, organic micro greens, cherry tomato, extra-virgin olive oil and chili-lime sea salt, on GF toast, with two eggs and fresh fruit. It was a great choice. The GF bread looked so good that before I even took a bite, I called a waiter over to just check and make sure that I was really eating GF bread and not about to suffer from a kitchen mix-up. He reassured me that it was definitely GF, but it was delicious. It’s really not often that GF bread is indistinguishable from the real thing, but this bread was.

A minor digression: throughout this little vacation, I wavered about my food choices. There was always a part of me that said, “It’s vacation, enjoy yourself, eat the good stuff,” while another part of me said, “The good stuff is the vegetables, eat more vegetables.” The fact is, my three part depression recovery plan has been amazingly successful. Sure, maybe the absence of the roosters, ie getting more sleep, has a lot to do with it, but I’m currently on the up side of my bi-polar 2 disorder, aka hypomanic, and it’s, as always, quite the pleasure. Life is wonderful when you’re hypomanic, euphoria being a defining characteristic of the state. Of course, I wanted treats — yummy hamburgers and french fries are a luxury for me, not to mention Brazilian cheese bread tuna melts — but I actually want to keep feeling well, too, and that requires vegetables. I didn’t manage ten a day, every day, but I tried. Fortunately, Bend is a great place to find food that’s healthy, as well as delicious.

All that said, I should admit that my breakfast also included a single slice of bacon (the dogs got the other two slices from a side order) and a couple of baked goods (a snickerdoodle muffin and a marionberry scone) for later.

After breakfast, it was time for some shopping. First stop, the Goodwill store. I had two goals for my Bend shopping: a waterproof rain coat, and a pair of blue jeans that really fit. Sadly, Goodwill was still not allowing people to try on clothes — I find it hard to believe that anyone has caught COVID from a dressing room, so I suspect it’s just convenient for them not to let people try stuff on — which made my blue jean search trickier. But still, the benefit of thrift store shopping is that you can take chances. I focused on the pants until I’d found three pairs that I thought would work, for a total of $22. (Two out of the three seem okay; the third got donated again as soon as we got home.) Then I moved to the jackets. First score: a purple “weatherproof” jacket with a hood from 32 Degrees for $7.50. Did I need it? Nope, it wasn’t the waterproof coat I was looking for. But I loved the color, liked the style, adored the price, and will be able to wear it all the time in Arcata.

Second score: a teal, parka-type coat from Dakine. But it was priced at $30! At a thrift store! That seemed unreasonably expensive, so I brought it over to Suzanne to see what she thought and she thought I would be insane not to buy it, so I did. Totally, totally worth it. On our next several hikes through the snow, the difference between it and my usual Costco coat was so pronounced — I was always toasty warm in my new coat. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to wear coats in the snow, and I think it’s the most expensive article of clothing I’ve ever bought at a thrift store, but I’ve already gotten my money’s worth. It’s a great coat. (As you can see if you follow that link, because the link leads to a review of literally the exact same coat, same color and everything.)

My thrift store shopping was done and Suzanne was more interested in REI shopping than thrifting, so off we went to REI. It was packed with people. Turned out they were having a sale, 20% off for members, one-day only. Convenient timing for Suzanne. Or, you know, convenient timing for me, because although I had no intention of getting anything, there was a pair of shoes on clearance sale that were the exact same style and brand as my favorite hiking boots, only in a low-cut version, ie hiking shoes instead of boots. Ignore the negative reviews if you follow that link: two people are complaining that the shoes are not waterproof, but they neither claim to be waterproof nor look like they’d be waterproof. They’re just comfortable walking shoes, which were clearance-priced plus another 20% off at REI. Yes, shopping score!

After REI, we headed to the Big Sky Park Off-leash Dog Area. Bend really likes dogs. This dog park wasn’t as cool as the trail, but it consisted of several fenced in areas, with some long, winding dirt paths, some low hilly bits and some open spaces. The official website doesn’t say how big it is, but one review claims 12 acres. The dogs got a chance to meet some other dogs, but also — and far more importantly, at least to the puppies, I think — a chance to play ball for a while. The weather was beginning to look foreboding, however, with a possibility of freezing rain, so before it got too dark, we headed off to pick up another take-out dinner.

This time we went to Kefi Fast Fresh Mediterranean. It’s like Chipotle, except not. You pick your base (mine was brown rice), your protein (grilled chicken), four toppings (mixed olives, cucumber, marinated golden beets, zaatar roasted vegetables), and two sauces (spicy herb sauce and lemon tahini sauce). It was great. I’d definitely eat there again anytime.

My, I’m so chatty in my blog posting today. I can’t believe I’ve written another 1500 words and haven’t even finished my vacation. Hey, guess what talkativeness is a symptom of? If you guessed hypomania, you win! Eye roll at myself, I suppose. But it’s almost 8PM and I’m starting to yawn, so I think I will pick this up tomorrow. Believe it or not, I still have stories I want to tell and places I want to remember.

Winter Wonderland Adventure, Part One

Post the earthquake, Suzanne and I had a lovely little solstice celebration, which included playing a board game, eating tacos for dinner, and then folding origami snakes and cranes to represent the things we were getting rid of (snakes) and wishing for (cranes). We then set our origami on fire to send our wishes out into the universe.

The setting-on-fire part was much easier said than done. Next year, we might have to buy a Duraflame log (or equivalent) ahead of time. Or, if the weather is nicer, actually get wood for the fire pit and build a real fire instead of trying to use the grill. The frustration was part of the fun, though, and our origami did eventually burn quite satisfactorily. May our wishes come true!

We also had a very pleasant Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we went to our neighbor’s Hanukah celebration and ate tamales with a multitude of hot sauces and salsas. (I’m noticing a trend — Mexican food for the holidays. We must be in California, ha.)

On Christmas Day, we exchanged stockings, then took the dogs to the Ma-le’l Dunes, where they could romp to their heart’s content. It was still foggy when we arrived, but the fog started to burn off while we were there and the morning became gloriously beautiful.

A not quite foggy beach

The dunes on Christmas Day with the fog in the distance.

foggy beach with person in distance

The sky looked like someone was peeling back the cloud cover.

In the afternoon, I tried to grill pork chops for our Christmas dinner and discovered that we were out of propane, a problem that we definitely want to solve before our next earthquake. Fortunately, pork chops cook almost as well on the stove, so a little later than planned, we ate sautéed pork chops with a mint-garlic-salt rub, plus actual baked potatoes for our dinner. The baked potatoes were the holiday treat — neither Suzanne nor I could remember the last time we’d had a real oven-baked potato, and they were so good. 

Boxing Day was a quiet day: I think it rained, because my step count is low, only 1.4 miles for the day, and I took no pictures. Yep, I’m using my phone’s tools to try to remember what happened on a day that was only a week ago! I believe I did a bunch of organizing and cleaning and laundry, getting ready for our Winter Wonderland Adventure, aka our plan to spend the next five days in Oregon, with one night in Ashland, followed by three nights in Bend, and then one more night on the way home. 

And then the trip itself. To summarize: it was fantastic. Truly. Not just good, not even just great, but fantastic. 

We left Tuesday morning and headed in the wrong direction: south, to the jetty on the Samoa peninsula. Humboldt was having king tides, which are unusually high tides, and the jetty is one of the best places in the area to appreciate really good waves. It’s also a fun place to let the dogs run around and, as Suzanne puts it, “work out the ya-yas,” which is good to accomplish before a long drive. Tired dogs are much better car companions than bored dogs.

two dogs next to sign reading "Danger"

Trying to get the dogs to pose by the Danger sign was an exercise in absurdity. I need to work with Sophie on Stay, which we haven’t used enough to get good at, but which — once in a while! — comes in handy.

Then we headed to Ashland. The highlight of an already nice day, for me at least, was our dinner at Louie’s. I had the oregonzola burger and fries, which probably does not sound like a highlight to people who can eat normal food whenever they want, but it was gluten-free, and yet tasted like real food. The fries were crispy and hot, delicious with ketchup, and the burger — well, okay, my bun didn’t look as good as Suzanne’s, which was the non-GF version — but still, it felt like a real burger. We didn’t spend much time wandering around Ashland that night but it was fun to be out for the brief time that we were; lots of sparkling holiday lights, lots of people, crisp winter air, and big fires in fire pits.

The next morning, we took the dogs to the dog park — gotta get those ya-yas out! — then tried to find a bakery that I’d read about it, Vida. And my mouth literally just started watering at the memory. Vida is gluten-free, and uses Pão de Queijo, aka Brazilian cheese bread, as the base of its breads. I should possibly be embarrassed by this, but over the course of our WWA (Winter Wonderland Adventure), I tried their cheese bread balls, an onion bagel, a smoked salmon sandwich, a roasted turkey with tomato jam and arugula sandwich, a carrot muffin, a tomato foccacia, and a tuna melt. I know, crazy, right? But we got breakfast there and then bought sandwiches for lunch on our drive to Bend, and then on our way home, we stopped there again, had sandwiches for dinner, and bought treats for our breakfast the next day. And I would happily buy all the things, all over again. On our way home, Suzanne asked me which was the best, and it was an incredibly hard decision, but that tuna melt — cheesy bread with more cheese, warmed up — on a cold day, was just so over-the-top, crazily delicious… I’m not sure I could ever eat it again, because I’m not sure it could live up to the memory. But if that tuna melt had been the only good meal I’d eaten on our WWA, it would still have been a good adventure. And fortunately, it wasn’t!

On our way to Bend, we stopped at a county park a little off the highway. I don’t remember the name, I don’t remember exactly where it was, but the photos I took tell me it was in a place called Chiloquin. Oh, and clicking on the Info bar takes me to a map which tells me it was Petric County Park. Technology is so handy sometimes.

I am pretty sure that the park is really more of an access point for the nearby Agency Lake. It was a bathroom, a parking lot, and a boat ramp. But it was also a completely empty open space with loads of snow on the ground. The dogs loved it.

snowy landscape

Zoom in. Zoom in some more. No, a little more. That black speck is Bear; the black-and-white speck near her is Sophie.

the bathroom, the boat ramp of Petric County Park

The bathroom, the boat ramp, the picnic table. A really simple park, but a great place to stop for a quick picnic and dog romp.

When the dogs started taking occasional breaks in the romping, we deemed it time to move on and loaded up again for the rest of the drive to Bend. We got to our hotel around 3:30 or so and our room wasn’t quite ready, so we drove down the street — literally, less than a mile — to what truly might be the world’s best dog park. Or not — as I tried to find a link, I discovered that it’s actually considered a trail, not a park, which I assume is because it’s not fenced at all. But according to the internet, the Good Dog Loop is a 3.5 mile trail near the Deschutes River. It connects to other trails — I know I read a sign that said there was a 6 mile trail called the Deschutes River Trail — but dogs are allowed off-leash and there were loads of them taking advantage. It was so much fun to walk with the dogs freely running around, doing their own thing, coming back to check in, then running off again. Over the next couple days, we spent hours — and miles — exploring Good Dog, and it was, for me, definitely the best part of a really good trip.

Dinner that night was take-out, picked up at a drive-through, from a place called Life & Time: Free Range Fast Food. I had the Tex Mex bowl, with brown rice, black beans, corn salsa, cotija cheese, cilantro, chili cream, avocado, onions and scallions. It felt a lot like the kind of meal I usually feed myself, but it was also good to eat some vegetables after my cheese-bread focused breakfast and lunch.

 

6.4

Suzanne can magically identify the magnitude of an earthquake as it’s happening. Yesterday we were sitting at her table playing a board game when an aftershock hit and after the first moment of doubt — was it going to be bad? — she shook her head and said, “Aftershock. Around a 4.” We went back to playing our game.

Much, much earlier in the day, she’d come outside to say, “You okay?”

I was standing in the doorway of the tiny house, in my pajamas, in the freezing cold, and responded, “Oh, yeah, fine. You?”

She was also fine and told me then that the earthquake that had just hit was around a 6. (Later she let me know that doorways are no longer the prescribed safe spot for earthquakes, and my best bet was probably just to stay in bed, which will be good news for future reference, and which I share with you just in case you need to know that, too.)

Before all that, however, I had the somewhat surreal experience of waking up to the earthquake, which — to be honest — was really kind of cool. Obviously not for the people who were injured or the ones with major property damage, so my sympathies to them, but my experience was not tragic or even particularly disturbing.

So! This is what happened: I was sleeping and as I came up out of sleep, my first reaction was that somehow I’d been in a car accident? And the police were already on the scene? So maybe I was hurt? Or maybe the accident was still happening? But why would the emergency vehicles be there already?

The lights were blinking in the tiny house. I have strip lighting with colors around my window and I never usually use the color, but whatever was happening with the power was causing the lights to flash on and off. Meanwhile the appliance lights were also going on and off so there was a red light blinking from my induction cooktop and a blue-ish white light appearing from my air fryer convection oven.

Things were moving, too. The induction cooktop is on a stand with wheels, and I’m fairly sure it was sliding forward, but the bed was very definitely shifting and shaking. It was noisy, but I couldn’t really tell you what the noise was — part of it was definitely appliances turning on and off, beeping from the cooktop, the fan starting and stopping on the air fryer and some of it was things falling over — but it also felt like a big outside noise, like I was enclosed inside a rumble.

It took me a few seconds to get my sleeping brain to “oh, earthquake,” with a quick pause first on, “How could I be in a traffic accident, I’m in bed and I’m not hurt?” and then another few seconds to think, “Hmm, I should probably be doing whatever one is supposed to do in an earthquake,” and another few seconds to think, “I suppose it’s fortunate that I own so little, there’s nothing really to fall on me or even break, I don’t need shoes or to check for broken glass,” before I got out of bed and went to the doorway. By that time there was maybe a second or two of earthquake left, but mostly it was over.

And still! And dark! I stood in the doorway of the tiny house and it was so cold and clear and pretty, stars in the night sky, my breath fogging on the air. I know we had no power and that it was not quite 3AM, but it felt like there was plenty of light by which to see. (In fact, although I didn’t think about this at the time, I think it’s because Suzanne’s outside lights are solar-powered, so they were still on even though we’d lost power.)

Sophie was completely blasé about the whole thing. She was a little surprised that I was going outside, but followed me cheerfully enough. After Suzanne and I chatted, including me remembering that I hadn’t put my garbage out for collection and doing so, and touching base with the next door neighbors, Sophie was happy to follow me back to bed, too. Apparently there were aftershocks during the remainder of the night, but I slept through them. (Such cozy and relaxing sleep, in fact, that I’m going to start turning the power off to all my appliances before I go to bed, so that my room isn’t filled with little glowing nights all night long.)

Before I went to sleep, I did a quick calculation of east coast time, decided that I probably wouldn’t wake my dad, and sent him a text, just in case it was an earthquake big enough for people in other places to hear about. By the time I woke up, it was clear that it was. The text messages from friends and family checking in were loving, in the truest sense of making me feel loved.

I made my usual morning vegetable hash on the grill, while Suzanne made us instant coffee with her camping stove. She also pulled out her earthquake supplies from the shed, just in case we had an extended power loss. And then I had a fun day of texting with lots of people, hanging out with dogs and Suzanne, and playing board games. Also people-watching: the bagel store down the street was open, presumably on generator power and with hot coffee for sale, and the line was well past the door. Warm beverages, that’s what one wants during a minor natural disaster.

Our power came back on in the evening, when I was already snuggled deep into my covers (because it was really, really cold in the tiny house), so our earthquake experience is, I believe, basically over. I’ll have some cleaning to do today, because with no hot water, I didn’t wash dishes yesterday, but that should take me about twenty minutes max.

And then back to real life, which will include walking Sophie, eating healthy foods, and maybe, maybe writing about gratitude. But definitely celebrating the solstice, because today is the day that the light returns and that thought brings me joy.

Happy Solstice!

Happiness is…

On Sunday morning, I woke up at 3:30AM, because Miss Sophie Sunshine was at the door, saying, “I have to go outside. Oh, it’s so urgent, please wake up, my human. I really, really, really NEED to go outside.”

I obediently pulled myself out of bed and went over to the door. As I opened it, I automatically stopped her from running out. She has to wait until she has permission, because that’s Suzanne’s rule, and it’s good to have a little consistency with the dog rules. (Just a little, Sophie gets away with a lot more than Bear does because I am not strict.)

But just as I start to give Sophie the OK, I smell what’s on the air, and slam the door closed in her face. I tell her to pee on the floor, and she responds, “But please, please, PLEASE! There’s a skunk out there, it’s my JOB to chase it and get sprayed in the face.”

I said, “We have different definitions of what your job is,” and went back to bed.

When I woke up, she HAD peed on the floor, an enormous puddle, so maybe she really did need to go outside, too. Still, I considered pee on the floor a very small price to pay for not having to deal with skunk spray again.

Speaking of which, for those who are curious, my house doesn’t smell like skunk anymore. I still got whiffs of it as late as mid-October, so it took about three months to dissipate. There’s still one blanket that I haven’t used since. Every time I pull it out, I sniff it, then throw it into the wash again, and someday I’ll probably just resign myself to defeat and throw it away, but meanwhile, it gets washed every few weeks and never used. It took about that long to fully dissipate from Sophie, too — every once in a while, even as late as October, when she got excited and panted, you could smell skunk on her breath. The vet suggested that it might be on the enamel of her teeth, which is probably another good reason to brush them.

Anyway, the next time I woke up on Sunday, it was almost 7AM, and I woke up feeling happy. No particular reason for it, except that Saturday had been a nice day and I anticipated Sunday being a nice day, too. Let’s see, I’d walked 5.4 miles on Saturday, which included playing ball with Sophie at a nearby field; the farmer’s market with Suzanne, followed by a rosemary & cardamom latte at our local coffee shop (SO GOOD!) where we planned a post-Christmas trip to Oregon; and then a visit to the Ma-le’l Dunes with the dogs in the afternoon, where they got to run around like maniacs and Suzanne got to test her ankle’s recovery on sand.

A morning photo:

a tree in foggy light

I took half a dozen photos of this tree, because it just looked so cool in the morning fog. I’m not actually sure any of them came close to capturing how pretty it was, but I promise you, it was lovely.

An afternoon photo:

the dogs running on a beach with a clear blue sky

I have so many photos just like this. Arcata is a wonderful place for dogs. Sophie is not usually the one in front, though. Bear is fast! Sophie is, too, but Bear’s longer legs win.

So I thought Sunday would also be a nice day and guess what? It was! I started it with a “treat” breakfast: GF toast and eggs over easy, then took Sophie on a walk to the community forest. While we were there, Suzanne texted me and asked if we wanted to go on a hike for a Woof Camp reunion in half an hour? Yes! That gave us just about enough time to get home where Suzanne and her dogs were waiting in the car.

Our Woof Camp reunion was at a fantastic spot in Eureka — in the midst of a fairly urban environment, another beautiful redwood forest — with Jen, Copper, and Penny. (Woof Camp = Jen taking care of all five dogs, her two, Suzanne’s two, & Sophie, while we were in Oaxaca.) In the community forest here in Arcata, dogs have to stay on leash, because horses and mountain bikers also use the forest and it wouldn’t be safe for them to be off-leash. But in this Eureka forest — miles of it! — the dogs got to run loose. They loved it so much. Suzanne has a thing called a FitBark that tracks Bear’s steps, and I’m willing to bet that Bear had a LOT of steps. My personal steps yesterday were 6.2 miles, so Sophie probably had at least double that. Plus, lots of interesting new smells and playing with friends. A perfect dog day!

And when we got home, later that afternoon, the best thing of all happened. Two very nice people — I didn’t actually meet them, but believe me, they are VERY nice, they’re wonderful people — showed up and took the roosters away. And not to kill them! This morning when I woke up at 3:30 AM and listened to the delightful, delightful sound of silence, I didn’t even have to feel badly about the poor dead roosters, because they’re not dead. Happiness is the absence of roosters.

Actually, happiness is eating lots of vegetables, walking regularly, and sleeping through the night. My Depression Recovery Plan is going great, as is probably obvious. I still want to write about a few of the finer details — how gratitude is over-rated, how mindfulness is easier than its reputation would have it, plus the three types of A Experiences that I give myself and why — but maybe that’ll come later this week. Or, you know, over the next few weeks. I’ve got walks to take, dogs to play with, and vegetables to eat. Plus an Oregon adventure and some holidays!

Two more days to Solstice! Time to find the origami paper…

A dive into chaos

I feel as if my tiny house has taken a dive into chaos recently, so instead of cleaning it up, I’m writing a blog post. Not sure this is really the sensible approach to the chaos, but maybe it’ll inspire me to de-clutter tomorrow.

Chaos item #1: A sock hanging over one of my inspiration blackboards. These are three little blackboards — different shapes — that hang over a long high window. They’re near the ceiling, and I write reminders to myself on the boards in colored chalk, things like, “Daydream more, worry less,” and “Trust your intuition.” At the moment, one of them is mostly covered with a single sock.

I found the sock in the street. I actually walked by it three times, because it had been raining and it was sopping wet and muddy, before I finally picked it up and brought it home with me. Who brings a dirty sock home? Well, I did, because it’s a gray sock patterned with red ladybugs, and on the days that I walked by it, I was thinking as I walked about my mom and wondering what she would think about this memoir I’m not really writing. It feels impossible to write about my experience of parenting without also writing about my experience of being parented; the two are inextricably intertwined. But ladybugs always make me think of my mom and there it was, a dirty sock covered with ladybugs, almost yelling at me, “go for it, air the dirty laundry, it’s all yours.” I washed it before I hung it over my blackboard, which wasn’t intended to symbolically wash said dirty laundry, but it’s there as a reminder; my mom cannot be hurt by anything I write.

Chaos item #2: a little pile of jewelry next to my bed. Rings I keep putting on and taking off, a necklace or two or three. Jewelry has so much nostalgia value. Much of my jewelry was given to me, one way or another. One silver ring is a reminder of a trip to North Carolina; another of a trip to Hawaii; a third of living in San Francisco back when I was twenty-five. I’m not sure why I need these things to be out right now — surely I can be nostalgic about those times and places without the physical objects cluttering up my life? — but instead of putting them back in the little jewelry travel case I use instead of a box, I’m letting them sit.

Chaos item #3: a little pile of books, real paper books, on the other side of the bed. I’ve been picking them up from the little free libraries around Arcata, and they’re the most bizarre collection. One is literally a romance from 1982 that I loved, probably in 1982, and haven’t seen since. Another is a book on deepening our relationships with dogs, a third is titled, “I Feel Great and You Will Too,” and promises practical tips for scoring big in life. Each one is from a different little free library, and each one felt like it was meant for me when I spotted it.

Funny thing, though: my tiny house does not have a reading light. I settled in one evening, opened up a book, and realized, “I can’t read this. It’s dark in here.” I forgot that paper books require light to be shining on the page in order to decipher the text. There’s not enough light in my tiny house to read at night. So there the books sit, waiting for… well, maybe for summer, when it will be light enough to read during the hours I usually read for pleasure. That’s not a metaphor, although it feels like one.

Chaos item #4: scissors and tape and bits of paper debris. A string of colored lights, rolled up in a ball, sitting on my coat rack’s shelf. Some cardboard boxes, a packing envelope or two, miscellaneous bags. Tis the season. I just fell down the delightful internet rabbit hole of words to describe feelings that we don’t really have words for in English, and have pulled myself free with great reluctance. Suffice to say, my chaos reminds me that we celebrate light out of darkness. Or maybe light in the darkness. Maybe tomorrow I’ll clean up, or maybe tomorrow I’ll dig out some Christmas cards and send some wishes for holiday cheer winging through the mail.

Meanwhile, though, today was a little short on vegetables and a little high on sugar, although Shine On to me for 8674 steps of walking, not including plenty of steps taken sans telephone. Still, I am committed to going to sleep early, to hit 2 out of 3 on my DRP, which means turning off the internet in exactly two minutes. Cutting a blog post short, perhaps, but fingers crossed for cozy successful sleeping. And someday soon, but not today, more on the DRP.