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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dog gazing out window

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