Tail-spinning delight

At the park this morning, Sophie Sunshine spotted a dog from a distance that was a dead ringer for Copper, one of the Australian Shepherds owned by Jen, who hosted Sophie, Bear and Riley at Woof Camp when Suzanne and I went to Oaxaca in September. Sophie was so excited that she immediately dropped her ball and took off running. By the time she reached the Copper-lookalike, she was so happy that her tail was spinning in circles. I have never noticed her do that before. Truly, circles, like a motorboat blade. It was so cute!

Sadly for her, the dog was not Copper. Happily for her, the dog was friendly, enthusiastic and a big puppy, so they romped together for a little bit and then Sophie found her ball and went back to playing ball, while the Copper-lookalike (Percy) played with a beagle puppy who was also happy to romp. We wound up staying at the park longer than I intended, because there was so much happy energy that it was hard to resist.

Can you guess what made the energy so happy? Well, dogs, obviously. But also, SUNSHINE! Unexpected sunshine, which is the best. Although, actually, all sunshine is good by me, and I’m perfectly happy with predicted sunshine, as well as surprise sunshine. Still, surprise sunshine makes for a nice Monday morning.

I know I’m writing about weather a lot — not the most interesting of topics! — but… well, the newspapers have been writing about the Californian weather a lot, too. There’s a certain level of weather that becomes newsworthy, and while Arcata itself isn’t entirely at that level, it’s not so far off. It is conceivable (albeit still unlikely) that all the roads in and out of town could wind up closed because of the weather. It gives us a little bit of that flavor of the early days of the pandemic, when people were stockpiling crazy stuff because of the uncertainty. The endless days of rain make it seem all too plausible, while the sunshine makes it seem like nonsense. Of course, it’s all going to be fine. Yay, sunshine!

This weekend, Sophie and I went on two long walks. On Saturday, we walked about a mile and met up with the Redwood Pals Rescue pack walk. We then walked about two miles, I think, with a group of about 9 other dogs. For our first solo mile, Sophie was entirely off-leash, including a stretch along a fairly busy road. She was so good! She gets ahead of me a bit, then falls behind me when there’s an interesting smell, then gets ahead again, but she stops at every street corner and waits for me to say go. Many treats are still involved, but she’s very attentive. Then on Sunday, we did the same loop, about four miles or so, off-leash (with a brief exception of a time when she went on-leash to get by another dog). Suzanne’s pet-sitter, Rachaelle, joined us on that walk, so she and I were chatting away, but even though I was distracted, Sophie was still 98% perfect.

I never actually expected to have a true off-leash dog. Off-leash in enclosed, safe, specific areas, yes, i.e. I would have been sad if I couldn’t let her run free in dog parks and on beaches. But I didn’t imagine even wanting to train her to be off-leash on city streets and in places with traffic. I would have thought I’d be just way too anxious to ever be comfortable in those situations. But Sophie is so responsive and so happy to be trusted. She very much wants that freedom and she is delighted to have it. I think she understands that sometimes a leash is inevitable, but she’s sad about it when I put it on her. She doesn’t quite view it as a punishment, but it’s something like that.

After the pack walk, I tried teaching her that when I drop the leash, she should stop moving. That was fun. I don’t think she’d do it if I didn’t have a plentiful supply of treats in my pocket, but she definitely figured out pretty quickly what I was aiming for. I’m hoping later this year to do some dog training at a local place. She has not mastered — at all! — the concept of “you stay put while I move away” and I haven’t figured out how I can teach her that in a house so small that there is really no way for me to move away from her. But it would be a useful skill for her to have, I think. Hmm, maybe I should start working on it in the park. Well, something to think about!

In other news, I went to the dentist last week for the first time since the pandemic began. Ugh. My new dentist thinks I need $10,000 worth of stuff. Four crowns on old fillings, root planing to treat my gums, a night guard to protect my implants. She’s very high-tech and I don’t think she’s wrong — she showed me the cracks radiating out from the old fillings — but most of it is still not happening anytime soon. The root planing is, but for the rest, I’m looking into dental tourism. If I’m going to spend thousands of dollars, I’d rather have it include a cool vacation. Maybe this fall. Maybe next winter!

As for today, I should be thinking about email. My sole goal for the day — apart from the obvious DRP activities (Sleep, Walk, Eat Vegetables) — is to get my email under control. Somewhere, buried under the hundreds of emails that are flooding my inboxes every single day, is an email from a college friend that’s about 10 days old now. I know it’s in there underneath the vast amounts of spam I’m getting, and I’d really like to answer it, but it’s currently lost. There might be plenty of other interesting things in there, too, but I honestly just cannot keep up with my email anymore. I don’t think it’s just me, I think the spammers have figured out ways to defeat the spam filters, but my email situation is just crazy right now. If it didn’t seem completely unfeasible, I’d just delete all my email addresses and set up a new secret one that I only gave out to actual human beings. But that does seem unrealistic. Anyway, the goal for the day: clean out the email. And write a blog post. And enjoy the sunshine! I sort of suspect that two out of three will happen, because that sunshine is calling my name.


I felt like the cows had been playing King of the Mountain and were just waiting for us to go by to get back to their game.

A fine, albeit rainy, Monday

Rain, rain, and more rain. Chance of rain today: 100%. Chance of rain tomorrow: 100%. We’ve got a flood watch in effect for the entire county and the counties around us, too, listed as “Severity: Moderate, Possible threat to life or property.” They don’t mention possible threat to mental health and well-being, but maybe we all just take that for granted.

I know I should not complain, because check it out:

Rain Map

We are actually getting the LEAST amount of rain of anyone in the vicinity. Lavender, not violet. So I’m not complaining, I’m just… noticing. Commenting. Aware. (Whining!)

Yesterday, I was playing ball with Sophie in the park, in the rain, and I hurled the ball without looking, then realized I’d thrown it directly at an approaching person, all bundled up against the weather. I called out, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and hurried after Sophie, who was racing toward her. Fortunately the ball landed before it came too close and Sophie snagged it before it could roll much farther, but I was still embarrassed. When I got close enough that I was sure the person — an older woman — would hear me, I apologized again.

She responded, “You’re so faithful to your dog.” I must have looked confused, because she added, “I see you out here all the time, throwing the ball for her, no matter the weather.”

I laughed a little and said, “She needs a lot of exercise.” But as the woman walked away, I felt… validated. It was unexpected, certainly, that someone I didn’t recognize recognized me, and I wondered whether she lived in one of the houses adjoining the park, but it was definitely more nice than not. “Faithful” was a really interesting word choice, too — not a word one hears much in relation to anything besides marriage — but I understood it as her acknowledging that I am doing my best for Sophie, regardless of the weather. Of course, it’s also good for me to be getting out and walking, because my natural inclination is to hole up. Despite the Depression Recovery Plan, if I didn’t have Sophie, I’m not sure I’d be dragging myself out of bed at all.

The first time I drove through west Texas, I can remember thinking that I wished I was the kind of person who would appreciate the stark beauty of the landscape, the wild desolation, the vast open space. Meanwhile, I was discovering that I am actually the kind of person who hated it and wanted nothing more than to get past the desolation and onto something more interesting. I feel that way about the endless rain. I wish I was the kind of person who could enjoy gray day after gray day after gray day, always appreciating the appeal of cloudy skies and reflections in puddles and the feel of cool drizzle on my face … but I’m just not. Oh, well. The weather app claims that Wednesday might be sunny, so fingers crossed we’ll have a chance to dry out a little.

In other news, the universe continues to instruct me to keep working on Choosing Happiness. Or maybe in this case it’s just Suzanne? She’s away and the pet sitter she found to take care of the cats (and chickens and Riley) is a teacher, and a writer working on a memoir, with a memoir-writing group. An unlikely coincidence, IMO, but it’s made for some great conversations. Plus some unpleasant self-reflection, but also some useful takeaways, although maybe as much from the research our conversations inspired as from the conversations.

One takeaway is that maybe I need to write this memoir as a collection of essays, not a straightforward linear timeline: “The more traditional memoir focuses on seeking and attaining redemption. The nonlinear structure of an essay collection reveals that there is never easy redemption, never clear resolution: bad things happen for no reason; overcoming one trial does not lessen the need to adapt in the next.” 

Another is that maybe I need more focus: “A memoir needs to be focused on one theme, or one life lesson, that has wound its way like a bright thread through the experiences of your life. Yes, you have many such threads, many lessons that make up your life experience, but don’t try to include them all in one memoir. “

At the moment, I just get overwhelmed by the story. What do I need to share? Every detail I can resurrect of that original argument? The incredible betrayal by a person I thought was a friend? Zelda’s death? The emails exchanged, including my misreading of one of them? Do I go back in time, to making the decision to have a child, to home-schooling exhaustion, or is that just weird self-justification? Do I write about the one time I spanked him (because he BIT me!) or the time I yelled at him for wanting to quit Spanish? Or is all of that irrelevant to my central theme, which I think is about how I choose to be happy.

Not about the choice itself, because it’s trivially easy to say, “I choose to be happy.” (Although on par with saying “I choose to win a marathon” or “I choose to write a best-seller.” Yeah, good luck with that.) But about the HOW; the ways in which I’ve cultivated happiness, the tools that I created for myself, the work that I’ve done. Those feel like the useful things, the things I want to share with some other mom who is living in the pain and shame and grief and anger of estrangement. Some context is necessary, though, or at least I think it is.

Anyway, I don’t have answers to these profound questions yet. I’m working on it. Or at least thinking about working on it, which isn’t quite the same thing. Meanwhile, another few hundred words on Cici will at least make me feel like I’ve been productive on this fine rainy Monday. Or I could walk Sophie again. She knows which one she’d prefer!

Linda Vista Trail

scenery in Arizona

I’m currently sitting on my bed in Serendipity, listening to the sound of the rain on the skylight, with a muddy dog curled up next to me, literally on my pillows. Why, why, why does Sophie think that having mud on her feet means she should make a nest in the pillows? Also, why, why, why do I not clean my dog’s feet off when I come inside, before I get distracted and move on to other things and forget that she’s muddy?

I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, but the sunshine of Arizona feels like it was a long time ago. The only traces left of my delightful week in Tucson/Phoenix are 1) my incredibly chapped lips, 2) my fantastic LL Bean thrift store blue jeans (also two shirts and a purse), and 3) the five pounds or so I gained from a week spent eating desserts at nice restaurants. The BBE and I did go on some good hikes, including one morning on the above trail, but the calorie count of the hiking did not counterbalance the calorie count of the mesquite flour churros, the creme brûlée, the cinnamon muffins, and the raspados. Also the pulparindos and the Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. Ha. Ironically, when I started writing this blog post I thought I was going to write about making healthy food choices while traveling. Or healthy food choices just in general. 

Mostly we did make healthy food choices. My favorite meal was a rice bowl with mixed grains, yucca fries, Mexican street corn, and mesquite salmon, which was so delicious that we went back to the restaurant, CharroVida,  three times. Three times! That’s a lot when two of those meals could have involved trying something new, which is usually my first choice when traveling. But it’s also relaxing to eat at a restaurant that takes gluten-contamination seriously. I nearly got burned at another restaurant that had items clearly marked gluten-free on their menu that were not actually gluten-free. I didn’t write a scathing review because the waitress was so nice, but I would have been really annoyed if she hadn’t warned me that the menu was wrong.

Other nice meals: an ahi-poke rice bowl; a rice bowl with sorrel pesto, kale, eggs, and sweet potatoes; GF pizza with an arugula-avocado salad with lemon vinaigrette; and tacos, the best of which was carnitas, I think. We also had sushi one night, which was fine but not as inspired as my own sushi; hotel scrambled eggs one morning; chilaquiles another morning. I kept claiming I was going to make the BBE take me to a really nice (read: expensive) restaurant, but as it happened, an interesting rice bowl or taco place always won out for me over $45 prime rib. Back when Suzanne and I went to Bend, I mentioned wavering over my food choices: feeling like vacation is the time to eat whatever you want while simultaneously thinking I should make healthy choices. This time, I realized that healthy food *IS* what I want. I’d rather have a good veggie-heavy rice bowl than steak and potatoes. Although I guess I also discovered that I want my healthy food plus dessert, and maybe next time I should go a little lighter on the desserts. 🙂 

Apart from hiking and eating, we took advantage of the hot tub at our hotel, as well as braving the heated pool once for about ninety seconds on my part, a bit longer on my brother’s part. Even a heated pool feels cold when the outside air is barely breaking into the 60s. Still, if we’d tried to make it to Sedona, we wouldn’t have gotten there (the roads were closed) and we would have been trapped in many inches of snow, so we weren’t complaining about sunshine and 60s. (Much.) We nearly got to experience snow in Phoenix, which apparently happens about once every 25 years, so would have been automatically cool. If it did snow, though, it happened at 4AM and was gone by the time I woke up at 6 or so. 

We did some touristing, too. On our first full day in Tucson, we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which had been recommended to us, possibly by the friendly Montanans in the hot tub the previous evening, possibly by in-laws of the BBE.  Possibly by both! I can’t remember tbh. Unexpectedly to me, the desert museum turned out to be a zoo, and not one just for desert animals. I took some great video of an otter eating fish and some less great photos of hummingbirds and a bobcat and a mountain lion. We also went to Old Town Scottsdale, which is as thorough a tourist shopping strip as the pier in San Francisco or the inner harbor in Baltimore. I don’t have any objection to tourist areas when I am, in fact, a tourist, but I did appreciate our Linda Vista hike and the two other hikes we took rather more than either of our tourist attractions.

We also dragged one another to our respective shopping interests: thrift stores for me, coin stores for the BBE. Arcata has plenty of thrift stores: at least three within easy walking distance, and I rarely go into them. But I love going to thrift stores while traveling, because it’s so interesting to see what sorts of things wind up donated in different places. Also, Arcata is a college town in a rural community, which means our thrift stores get thoroughly picked over very quickly. In contrast, the Goodwill in the northern part of Tucson held bargains. I got a couple $3 t-shirts, including this purple one with hummingbirds, and the aforementioned LL Bean jeans, which look new, for $8. The thrift store in the college part of town, unsurprisingly, not so good. Ditto the Phoenix thrift store. But if I ever make it back to Tucson, I’m definitely checking out the Goodwill store on North Oracle Road again. 

It was a fun escape, enough so that basically the moment I got home, I started planning our next adventure. Oregon, because the BBE really *needs* to try Brazilian cheese bread and oyster tacos! First, though, I should write a book. Time to get right on that! 

Really, Duolingo?

I have been “learning” Japanese for 144 days now. I put learning in quotes, because I am honestly just not very good at it. If an actual Japanese person said something to me in Japanese, I would completely freeze and stare at them blankly. If I had to say something to someone in Japanese, I could probably manage good morning (Ohio) or thank you (Arigato) or maybe even nice to meet you (ha-gee-may-mash-e-tay), but beyond that, not so much.

So why the hell did Duolingo think this was an appropriate thing for me to learn this morning?

This is not true. I did not write a new book, because I’ve been too busy learning Japanese and playing with my dog and binge-reading rock star romances.

Duolingo followed up with this.

No, Duolingo, no, I did not. But way to guilt trip me. And seriously, how can it be that while I’m still trying to tell time and barely know how to ask for a taxi and cannot tell one relative from the next (SO HARD!), Duolingo is asking if I am writing books? Like, just how??

Later in the morning, when I was again playing with Japanese instead of writing words, Duolingo offered up this.

Yes, Duolingo, this is very, very true. I do read a lot of books. In the past week, I have to admit, I’ve read something like 30 of them. I’m not entirely sure why but on February 15, according to my book tracking app, I read a book that was almost what I wanted it to be. It’s called Six Ways to Write a Love Letter, and it is a charming, off-beat romance, written entirely in the hero’s POV as he falls in love with a character who is essentially Taylor Swift. It could be Taylor Swift fanfiction, in fact, and maybe it once was. It’s really cute, fun, and a good quick read but something about it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

What did I want? I have no idea. But it was like I was searching for a book that I’d read once before — a romance featuring a rock star that was pure fun, beginning to end. Like craving a specific kind of food — not just a tuna fish sandwich, but a tuna melt, and not just a tuna melt, but the exact tuna melt made by Viva Baking in Ashland, Oregon.

So I proceeded to binge my way through Amazon’s vast collection of Kindle Unlimited rockstar romances. When I say “vast,” I mean enormous. I mean that Amazon is overflowing with rockstar romances. There are so many that I could probably read one rockstar romance a day for the rest of my life without finishing them all. Am I exaggerating? Honestly, I’m not sure I am.

Fortunately for me, many of them were… well. Easily rejected, that’s what I’m going to call them. If it only takes me three pages to despise the hero, I’m not going to waste my time, even if the heroine promises to redeem him. If I’m rolling my eyes before I’ve hit 10%, I’m returning the book. (It’s KU, so they all get returned eventually; I’m not buying books, reading them, and returning them, which is a very uncool thing to do.) If the descriptions read like they were written by an AI (in other words, a collection of cliches), I’m willing to take a pass, and if the angst is piling on before the first chapter ends, I could be pretty sure that I wasn’t going to find my pure fun.

I didn’t, in fact, find my pure unadulterated fun. But if you want to read rockstar romances, and what you’re looking for is off-beat, interesting, and even kind of grown-up, may I recommend Duet by Julie Kriss to you? I liked it so much that I had to read parts aloud to Suzanne while driving to Eureka yesterday. There’s a moment, early on, where the romantic leads are talking about music, and the heroine — whose POV we’re in — compares the joy of the conversation to being high, and it was just SO much more compelling than the dozens/hundreds/thousands of romances where the character falls in love with the hero’s blue eyes or muscles or, well, honestly, nothing, the characters are just in love because the author says they are.

Anyway, I’m probably done with my book binge for a while, not least because I’m currently sitting in the airport, waiting to catch a plane to Phoenix. I’m going to spend the next week having fun with my brother. It’s not going to be the fun we thought we were having — we were planning to go to Sedona and the Grand Canyon before the weather turned absolutely awful — but I expect we’ll manage to enjoy ourselves nonetheless. There will be no canyon pictures, but maybe I’ll post some cactus pictures later!

A lovely weekend

I had a lovely weekend. I also did not turn my computer on once. Correlation does not imply causation, of course, but… I do think the two things are related.

On Saturday morning, Sophie and I went on the pack walk with our next-door neighbor, three of her dogs, and about six or so other people, all with their associated dogs. The pack walk happens every Saturday, leaving from a local church, and walking through a nearby rural area, along fields of wildflowers and cows. It’s such a beautiful area that most of the time when I’m walking there, I have at least one moment of thinking, ‘I can’t believe I get to live here.’ Saturday was no exception.

After the pack walk, we went to the farmer’s market. When you picture the ideal farmer’s market, the television stereotype of a farmer’s market, with local produce, friendly familiar faces, interesting foods, occasional crafts, all set in a small town square with cute shops, you’re picturing the Arcata’s farmer market, with the exception of the fact that the weather is not always obliging. Saturday’s weather, however, was completely obliging. Still cold, but sunny and with hints of spring in the air.

Saturday afternoon, I played ball with Sophie and read books.

Sunday, I played ball with Sophie and read books in the sunshine. It was such a nice day — okay, still probably not more than 60 degrees, but so much nicer than it has been! — that I sat outside on the back patio and appreciated the weather, basically all day long. Every time I thought about going inside, I reminded myself of the weather forecast for the upcoming week: storms, hail, freezing rain. It was my chance to enjoy outside, so I took full advantage.

For dinner, I made homemade sushi. I’m out of practice and my rolls were not as tight as they should have been (also I should have sharpened my knife before trying to cut through the nori) but it was still delicious. Then Suzanne and I took the dogs off to Hiller Dog Park and let them run like crazy until it started to get dark.

It was just a peaceful, pleasant, homey weekend. No adventure, no excitement, but nice from beginning to end.

Now, of course, it’s Monday, so I feel that I should be being productive, working hard, making progress in life. Monday, in Japanese, sounds sort of like “get-su-yobi,” which I remember by thinking of it as “gets-you” moving day. Am I likely to actually get moving? Eh, it’s possible. Although given that it’s already past 1, and I haven’t eaten lunch or taken Sophie for her lunch-time outing, it’s starting to feel unlikely. Still, I’m at least thinking about it, and hey, I’ve turned my computer on, so that’s always a good start.

My big achievement of the last few weeks hasn’t actually been my achievement at all: Sophie Sunshine is becoming a very successful off-leash walker. I’m still bribing her to keep her attention, but most of the time these days, I don’t put a leash on her while we walk to our local park, the one that can be reached via lightly trafficked roads. She stays within two sidewalk squares of me, pauses on the corners until I tell her we can cross, and is very responsive and attentive, turning and checking in with me every few steps. I’m so proud of her. That said, as soon as her bestie (Bear) appears, she forgets everything she knows, so we won’t be throwing away her leashes anytime soon. (Also, of course, in situations with traffic, busy roads, or lots of people/other dogs, I’d be keeping her on-leash anyway, for safety.)

Still, it definitely feels like an accomplishment to have reached this level of trust with her. It’s also fascinating to me how it seems to have changed our relationship in Sophie’s eyes. I think she trusts me more because I am trusting her more. The most concise way I can explain it (having just deleted a whole bunch of incoherent words) is that Sophie seems to have decided that we’re on the same team now, in a way that we weren’t (to her) a few months ago. And this is still feeling incoherent. It’s not that she obeys me more readily, it’s that she’s paying attention to me differently. I used to say about Zelda that she would do anything I wanted, if she could just figure out what it was. Sophie has never had that quality; she is much more independent and skeptical. Very, “You want me to sit? What’s in it for me?” And now, even though I am still giving her plenty of treats and rewarding her for doing things that I want her to do, her attitude feels more like, “Oh, I see this is important to you, okay, sure, I can do this.” Although maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing based on the fact that she’s snuggling with me more than she used to. Bear’s always been a good snuggler, but Sophie is becoming a good snuggler.

That said, she’s an even better ball player and she is staring at me now with that delightful dog intensity, telling me that lunch-time outing should have happened a long time ago, so… time to go play.


the Arcata march I took Sophie to the marsh this morning. I’d been struggling during the week: the “good” walk was always going to happen after I wrote some words, but the words kept not getting written and so the walk kept not being taken. (Don’t you love the passive voice there? I kept not writing the words, and not taking the walk; that’s the real story.)

I would say that I don’t really know what’s wrong with me, but I’m pretty sure that’s a lie. This week is a sad-iversary for me, and sad-iversaries are hard. I thought deliberately distracting myself with a trip to Florida during the earlier sad-iversary week would be helpful and maybe it was? But it didn’t do anything toward taking the sad away. Sometimes the only way out is through.

And sometimes the only way through is to push oneself to take good walks, even when feeling disinclined, and to push oneself to eat lots of vegetables, even when feeling disinclined, and to try really hard to get plenty of sleep. I’m not disinclined for that latter, I’m just not very good at it.

But it also helps to pause and appreciate beautiful things.

I didn’t want to go on a walk; it definitely felt like something I was doing because it was good for me, not because I felt like getting out of bed. But I was glad I did.

Sociable Sophie Sunshine

A few days ago, I was at the park up the road, playing ball with Sophie. She was returning the ball to me, and I saw the exact moment when she spotted something more interesting behind me: a little pause in the run, the head turning, the eyes looking beyond me, and then a bolt forward, higher-speed, the mad race to reach the more interesting, instead of the lope of a simple ball return.

I turned to see what she’d spotted. Another dog, on leash, had entered the park and was walking down the sidewalk with his person. Said person then leaned down and said, “Hello, Sophie, how are you?” while rubbing Sophie’s ears. Sophie, ignoring the dog in favor of the person, said hello far more politely than the mad dash would have suggested, then returned to our game.

Did I say anything to the person? I honestly don’t remember. I might have said something like, “Sorry about that,” and she might have answered me, but maybe not, too. But as I returned to playing ball with Sophie, I wondered. Had I said Sophie’s name? Had I called her? How did this stranger know my dog’s name?

Later the same day, or maybe the next day, I was at Creamery Field, another place where I play ball with the dogs. There’s a fenced garden adjacent to the field that belongs to the Montessori School down the street. A few people were in the garden and as Sophie and I were playing, they started to leave. One of them, a student, called over to me. “Is it okay if I say hi to Sophie?” I said, “Sure, of course,” and headed in her direction. Sophie saw what was happening and ran over to the girl. She dropped her ball at the girl’s feet, wagged her tail, permitted a little petting, then nudged her ball, which the girl properly picked up and threw for her. Sophie ran off, the girl said, “Thank you,” to me, and I replied, “Sophie’s pleasure!” But as they left, I wondered. How had she remembered Sophie’s name? We had met her before, it wasn’t the first time she’d petted Sophie, but still…

A day later, Sophie and I were on our way home, when the neighbor on the corner — who I have never met, never before actually spoken to, and would have no chance of recognizing out of the context of her walking out her front door — came out her door. She spotted us and said, sounding delighted, “Oh, hello.” I said a polite hello in response, and she followed up with, “Hello, Sophie, how are you?, what a good girl, so sweet,” as she bent down to greet Sophie effusively. Sophie lapped up her praise with enormous waves of her ridiculously fluffy tail and would have been perfectly happy to hop in her car with her and go for a ride.

My dog knows more people than I do. A lot more people than I do! She is also more sociable than I am, so that’s probably not all that surprising. But it does amuse me.

Sophie's eyesAnyway, I think she’s happy that I came home from Florida, but she’s definitely let me know that we should do more Suzanne-level walks. If we walk for a mile, we get home and twenty minutes later she tells me we should be taking another walk. Places to go, people to meet, balls to chase. She’s a busy girl.

I am somewhat less busy. I’ve got a whole long list of things I want to do (which does, of course, start with “write a book”) but I’ve had a really rough time with jet lag from this trip. I don’t know why, because I feel like I should have gotten plenty of recovery sleep by now, but my sleep cycle just got really messed up. I think I’m back on track now, but only to the point of starting to create a to-do list, not to the point of actually getting anything on it done. Oh, but on today’s to-do list: write a blog post. And done!

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.