Monday, March 28, 2022

Coming Out of the Cave

Manchester

 

When we accepted a four-month housesit in Washington state, we imagined we'd spend time with friends and out in nature: snowshoeing, skiing, hiking. But our winter became a hibernation.

First, though, we did a four-day sit in Manchester, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I lived in Seattle for three years, but I'd never even heard of Manchester, an unincorporated community next to Port Orchard. 


Mt. Rainier from the back deck


The house had a view of the Seattle skyline in one direction and Mt. Rainier in another. After our epic road trip (which I wrote about here and here and here), it felt like pure bliss to soak in this hot tub.


ahhh.....


Usually we get our sits through Trusted Housesitters, but this one had been a personal request from the homeowner, Kim, whom we'd met in Kauai. Our task was to take care of her gorgeous home and two adorable Golden Retrievers.


Cooper and Abbey


While we were there, Dena and Gary--the homeowners of our upcoming sit --came by for an afternoon. We were supposed to meet in person at their house, but because of Covid travel issues, they had to leave earlier than expected for their four months in South Africa. I enjoyed getting to know them in a relaxed way. Usually we meet the hosts a day or two (or hours) before they leave, which can be taxing since they need to orient us to the house and pets while they're packing.


Rocky loves Dave

The house is southeast of Seattle on Cougar Mountain between Renton and Issaquah. Soon after we moved in, a monumental snowstorm hit. This custom home in the woods has plentiful large windows and a fireplace, so it felt like being in a lovely, warm snow globe. That was until the pipes froze and the water pump broke. Also, sweet Rocky was having digestive issues, which meant cleaning up a lot of accidents. Given that they were on the other side of the world, Dena and Gary were very responsive. It took a while, but a new pump was installed, and the cat's gut stabilized, more or less, with the help of probiotics. 


view from the snow globe

Our dear friends Tony, Shannon and Ava, who live in So Cal, happened to be in the area and came for a night, braving the steep, icy roads. 




We were able to get out snowshoeing at Snoqualmie Pass, and we took a few hikes after the snow melted. But the whole time I wasn't feeling my usual vibrant self. Truth be told, I hadn't felt great for a while but traditional doctors and specialists weren't helping. I wanted someone who'd look at my whole self and who was versed in holistic medicine.





Licorice Fern Creek

I lucked out that there's an integrative practitioner in my network nearby. I learned that I have two issues going on that I'm being treated for with supplements and one pharmaceutical. I was also instructed to rest a lot and not stress myself physically or mentally. So I upped my meditation and also, upon the doc's advice, bought an infrared sauna blanket that I wrap up in like a sleeping bag to sweat out impurities. The thought of being a sweaty mummy made me laugh, but after the first time I was hooked.


elfish, post surgery

And then Dave went to the dermatologist, who said the irritating thing on his nose was basal cell carcinoma and had to come off. The Mohs surgery he underwent took five hours and involved transplanting a piece of ear cartilage onto his nose. The recovery, he was told, would take 4-6 weeks. Given two spots on his face were affected, sleeping wasn't easy. And he had to be extra careful of his nose to make sure the transplant would take, changing bandages and seeing the surgeon weekly. We have lots of reasons to be grateful for being in one place for four months, surrounded by good health care.

check it out here

So, as it's turned out, we spent a lot of time in the house, 
healing--other than going to see a play in downtown Issaquah that Dena and Gary kindly gave us tickets for. We've both read up a storm, and Dave has been studying Spanish. I've written seven chapters of my new book, a memoir about housesitting and nomadic life. Also during this time, my first memoir was released on audiobook. I'm biased, but I think the reader did a great job.




The past two weeks, we were feeling ready to see some friends. The first were Gary and Laurie, old pals of my parents. They are both in their late eighties and inspire me with the way they live, talking walks, enjoying eating out, and being involved in their retirement community--and Laurie, whose art I've always admired, still paints.

Laurie gave me this picture I'd never seen before
(my parents with my sister Ann and me on the right).

We also had lunch with my longtime friend Jennifer and her husband Dwight, and then followed them north to their house in Richmond Beach, which overlooks the Puget Sound. Crazy, but I lived two blocks away years ago, before they were there. Dave and Dwight did car stuff, while Jen and I went on a long walk and fell back into our bond as though it had been days, not years, since we'd seen each other.


We were in a high school musical together.


Dwight in his 1953 Jaguar

To those of you we didn't get to see on this Pacific Northwest trip, we hope to be able to get together another time. Our main focus had to be getting healthy for what's ahead between now and October: eight housesits in three countries. Like the other hibernating creatures, we welcome spring, refreshed. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Rocky Mountain High




Washington Park, Denver

After hopping from Louisiana to Colorado, we drove right up to the home of friends in Denver. Lee, Dave's longtime ski-and-music buddy, recently moved out of South Lake Tahoe, where his home nearly burned down in the Caldor Fire. He now lives with Heather in a tree-lined neighborhood within walking distance of beautiful Washington Park. It was sweet to spend two nights with them. Score: nomadic life!


With Heather and Lee on a crisp fall day.


Next we drove an hour northwest to Longmont to see what kind of life we'd be living for the next month on a housesit. The young couple (in their twenties) were headed to South America. On our Skype with them earlier, she mentioned they were going because her parents had died. She didn't give us the details on the tragedy, nor did we probe. When we met in person, they were both kind and relaxed as they introduced us to Chula (the black lab) and Peitica (the cat). Peitica is adorable, but we'd soon discover she hated not being in the bedroom at night and would serve as our alarm clock early every morning by stretching up to the knob to try to open the door.


stretchy cat

They were a bit apologetic about the lack of furniture in the house. They had recently rented the place, they explained, and were saving money to buy a home. It was a darling old house built in 1883. A plaque out front designated the date and original buyer, just like most of the homes in the Historic East Side neighborhood.

Our home for a month


I didn't think a spartan house would be a problem for a month. The bed was just a mattress (fortunately, a comfy one) on the floor and the couch was small and low. Thank god for yoga that our "seasoned" bodies are mobile enough to drop to the floor and stand up again. But I soon realized there was no table, not even one in the yard we could bring inside. I could live without a table for a few days, maybe a week...but a month? 

Fortunately it was the weekend and someone was having a yard sale nearby. We jumped in the car and for 30 bucks scored a table and chairs that, after tightening some screws, did the trick. 


A housesitting first: buying furniture.

I sent a message to the hosts asking them if they wanted a free table. If not, we'd get rid of it before we left. They were thrilled to keep it! And it made me feel good to help out a young couple, especially since they were going through a tough time. 


Hanging out with Teddy and Chula


Every day we walked the dog around the neighborhood, gazing at the old homes, some of which were elaborately restored. Downtown Longmont was just a couple of blocks away. It's charming, and it has not one, but TWO, great bookstores. 


A nurse came to give Chula, who has had surgery, laser treatments.


We also spent some time in Rocky Mountain National Park. Days were mostly blue sky and cold, great for hiking around this spectacular place. There are so many trails you could easily spend weeks exploring lakes, waterfalls, and mountains.


The Continental Divide


Lily Lake at Rocky Mountain NP


Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain NP

 

Upper Copeland Falls

Being nomads/slomads/traveling retirees/digital nomads means we belong to a tribe. On one of the many online travel groups, I connected with Karen about Baja, since she and her husband Jeff were headed there soon. She volunteered to listen to a draft of the audio of my memoir for any glitches. (It will be released soon by the same company that did my two novels.) And when we discovered we'd be in Colorado at the same time, we made a plan to meet IRL, as they say.

They chose the Dushanbe Teahouse, a unique restaurant with a delectable menu in a stunning, elaborate building. Yes, the place deserves all these superlatives. The building was given as a gift to the city of Boulder from its sister city, Tajikistan, and reassembled upon arrival.


see more pictures here 


Jeff, a longtime resident, is very knowledgeable about the history of the area and filled us in as we took a post-lunch stroll. We also talked about our lives and our plans and our histories like we were old friends. The next week we hung out with them at their beautiful home in Lyons. Karen gave us the Hieronymous Bosch "Garden of Earthly Delights" jigsaw puzzle she'd completed while listening to my memoir. A perfect gift for our winter plans.


new friends

Soon, though, the time came for Dave and me to roll on to the next place: Washington ... which is where we are now. My next post will tell you how we got here and what the heck we are doing in one place for a full four months...the longest since we left Mexico more than a year ago.

Happy holidays and tons of love to everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2021

10 Books That Make Great Gifts!



This year I read a number of wonderful books that were published independently or by small presses. Since you might not hear about these books, I decided to feature ten of them. They are all recently released and make great gifts!




NONFICTION





WILD LIFE by Lisa Alpine

What a life Lisa Alpine has lived! This book covers her adventurous travels over the span of 40 years. I loved reading these short, often funny, often poignant pieces about her adventures from exploring the Galapagos with a crazy group of people in the early days before there were tours there; to spending several years volunteering at Jazz Fest in New Orleans and meeting so many of the great musicians; to going on a wild tour of Israel with a young, fiery lover.






MOTHERTRUCKER by Amy Butcher

This book weaves together two women's lives: Joy Wiebe, the nation's only woman ice road trucker, and Amy Butcher, a writer and professor who is suffering an abusive relationship. Even though they have different views on religion and politics, they grow close as they share a road adventure in the dazzling, dangerous Alaskan wilderness. This book builds to two crescendos that are empowering and heartbreaking. The portrait of Joy will stay with me a long time, as will Amy's ruminations on domestic abuse (which resonate strongly with the book/Netflix series Maid).








THE BURNING LIGHT OF TWO STARS by Laura Davis

This book hit home on so many levels. I was often moved to tears and teary laughter at Davis' portrayal of her embattled relationship with her difficult, dynamic mother, Temme. When Temme develops dementia, Laura anxiously steps up to fulfill her promise to care for her--even though she feels her mother has betrayed her in the past. How mother and daughter find their way back to each other is a journey portrayed with all its thorns and blossoms.







RABBIT IN THE MOON by Heather Diamond

There is so much about Heather Diamond​ 's memoir that resonates with me, especially the propensity to reinvent oneself many times. Her writing is gorgeous, and the story kept me wanting to turn the page. I loved the way her introduction to her new husband's Hong Kong family makes it clear how much family means to them. An introverted white woman born in the U.S., she is both repelled by and drawn into a world so different from her own. This leads to her examination of the emotional and physical distance between her and her own family.





BEST BREAKUP EVER! by April Hirschman

I wish I'd had this book when I was going through my bad breakups. But I still got a lot out of it in terms of self-care. The book is jam-packed with great advice for loving on yourself. It's also freaking hilarious and smart AF. That's April's personality shining through. When I finished reading it, I felt like I was wrapped in love.






SWING by Ashleigh Renard

The light touch at the beginning of this book segues into powerful soul-searching around sexuality, marriage, and her issues with perfection--mirroring her own journey from surface-to-deep-dive. And yet, while serious, she maintains that sense of humor. I'm sure this book will resonate with those who, as she puts it, want to rehab a shabby marriage.







ANIMAL BODIES by Suzanne Roberts

It felt like I'd fallen under a spell as I read this book. Roberts weaves stories into powerful insights that honor the complexities of life. She's also darkly funny. The subtitle "Death, Desire and Other Difficulties" covers a wide swath of issues. The ones that most resonated with me were her relationship to her mother (and her mother's past and death), her observations of the way we treat "Animal Bodies" and women's bodies, and how political divides can affect longtime friendships. NOTE: This book doesn't come out until next year, but you can pre-order now. 





BONUS MEMOIR: Mine! CALL IT WONDER, which won the Bisexual Book Award. Reviewers have called it "insightful" and "inspiring."



FICTION








LIFE, ORANGE TO PEAR by John Brantingham

A bittersweet, quirky, equal parts dark-and-delightful novel. Each chapter reads as a standalone piece, but read the whole thing through to get the most of the relationship between the father and daughter--and to understand the poignant title. I loved this book and want to read more of Brantingham's work.





BEET FIELDS by Robin Somers


Santa Cruz is not only the setting but, in a way, a character in this book. I enjoyed reading about my former town as the backdrop in a "murder mystery." Yes, it's that--but it's also a book about organic farming. Her lush descriptions of that life kept me enthralled. The characters are lively and multidimensional, and the suspense kept me turning the page...as did the masterful examination of environmental issues.






REVOLUTIONARY KISS by Mary-Kate Summers

Mary Janelle Melvin and I co-wrote the novel we wanted to read! Reviewers have said it's in the vein of Dr. Zhivago and Gone with the Wind. Another wrote that it's "passionate, intelligent and thoroughly engrossing." If you enjoy losing yourself in a page-turner, check it out! 






Thursday, November 18, 2021

Seven Hops from Louisiana to Colorado



We had two weeks to make it from New Orleans to our month-long housesit in Colorado. Dave researched mini adventures on the route, segmenting the drive so we'd not have more than five or six hours in the car at a time. As we talked it through, I looked into lodging. Hours later, we had a plan. Here's what we did:

1. I was aching to see the ocean, so we headed east and spent three nights in Gulfport, Mississippi. The road along the coast runs for miles. I felt myself exhale at the sight of white sand and blue water stretching to infinity. 


Gulfport, as seen from our boat tour

After we dropped off our stuff at the Airbnb, a kind-of-cute converted shed billed as a cottage, we referred to Dave's notes and plugged Good Karma Cafe into the GPS. The route took us to a parking lot filled with vans. We called the restaurant. They said we were close and redirected us. That took us to a church. 

By this time, we were exhausted and hungry. That morning we'd done all the obligatory hard work at the end of a housesit: packing (sounds easy but when you've been in a place for three weeks, not so much), cleaning the house, washing the towels and sheets and making the bed, and driving three hours. But we are nothing if not stubborn in our quest for vegan food, so we called again...and voila! Finally. 




And boy was it worth it. The place is darling, and the Indian/Malaysian fusion food is flavorful...so good, in fact, we went two nights in a row. We chatted with the young cook (his mom owns the place) and his girlfriend who is the server. He likes to write, and she wants to travel. Of course I encouraged him to tell his stories, and we told her about housesitting


Fishbone Alley murals


The next two days we explored Gulfport. The small downtown is sprinkled with colorful murals. On a stroll, we happened to come across a breast cancer walk, with people (and dogs) adorned in pink. 





We took two hikes, one on the gentle Coffee Creek trail, and another in the Sandhill Crane Wildlife Refuge. After so much city living, it was wonderful to walk in nature, even though we didn't see any of those elusive birds.


An egret (not a sandhill crane) one of Dave's gets on Coffee Creek Trail


Another day we took a dolphin boat tour and learned from the marine biologist on board that the area is one of the most eco-diverse in the world. 


Dolphins!


2. Next we drove to Birmingham, Alabama. Our Airbnb apartment was tucked in a neighborhood that reminded us of the Berkeley hills.


16th Street Baptist Church


We had only one day to spend in Birmingham, and we made it all about the history. The Civil Rights Institute is an immersive experience that makes you feel like you're walking through time, experiencing the human suffering, the resistance, the redemption. 


Birds carrying her away...


The museum sits catty-corner from the 16th Street Baptist Church, which the Klan bombed in 1963, killing four girls, ages 11-14. A heart-rending sculpture called "Four Spirits" honors the girls at nearby West Park. As we walked through the park, we took in other sculptures and monuments in this place deep with history that resonates to this day.


3. Next we drove to Knoxville, Tennessee for one specific reason: to see our niece, Hailey, who is a nursing student at UT.


100-year-old Ayers Hall


We arrived at yet another Airbnb apartment, on the fourth floor of a building near campus. It was compact but had everything we needed. (Except, like some places we've stayed, the couch was like sitting in a hard taco. When we get back to Mexico I want to buy the most comfy couch I can find!) 

What a joy to spend the day with Hailey. We checked out her townhouse and met one of her roommates. Then we went out to lunch and she took us on a tour of the charming town and gorgeous campus. 


Dave, Hailey & Dolly


I couldn't be more proud of Hailey. She's a great student in a challenging major, works at the hospital, does kickboxing, engages with her sorority's activities including volunteering--and she knows what she wants in life! I wish I'd had my head on so straight at that age. 


hat capers


4. Next up was Chattanooga, Tennessee where we had a weekend housesit, caring for super sweet Sasha. 

good girl

The apartment was in an elegant vintage building in a historic neighborhood of grand old homes. Walking the streets, we encountered historical plaques describing battles that took place there. I found that a bit strange, rather long narratives recounting the details of x platoon and y general and z reconnaissance. I'm much more interested in historical people's stories than the technical details of the war machine. 


comfy bed...but the couch wasn't


Another battle site is Lookout Mountain. I skimmed over the information of yet more warring and enjoyed the place as a walk in nature.


Lookout Mountain

We also spent time walking around downtown Chattanooga. It's a lovely city, with its stunning art museum building, its sculpture garden, and the impressive Walnut Street bridge, built in 1891, that spans the Tennessee River. The bridge used to allow horses and buggies, but now it's pedestrians only.



Our last morning there, I woke up with itchy eyes swollen so badly I could hardly see. I'd inadvertently used apparently toxic shampoo as "soap" to wash my face. We usually share the driving, but Dave would have to take the wheel for our drive to...


5. Paducah, Kentucky. The Airbnb prices in this area were so high that we chose a hotel room instead. I've resisted hotels because I want a homier feel...but the American Inn turned out great. It had two comfy queen beds (we like to have a second bed to put our luggage on) and the usual amenities that were plenty for one night. 




We were taken with with the town's well-maintained historical buildings, clean streets, cute shops, museums, and murals along the ten-mile long floodwall where the Ohio and Tennessee rivers meet. 


The paintings display Paducah's historical days.


One of the images reveals a hidden horror in the town: a Uranium Enrichment Facility that operated from 1952 to 2013 that apparently poisoned many of its workers and contaminated the environment, a problem to this day. (See this article and this film.)  What a terrible injustice for the residents and the health of this area.





6. In the morning, my eyes were still itchy but much less swollen, so I was able to give Dave a break from driving duties. We crossed a large swath of Illinois into Warrensburg, Missouri where we planned to meet up with Darlena Ciraulo, a Shakespeare scholar and professor at University of Central Missouri. We were early so first we walked around the sweet, small campus.





Colorful fall day on campus


It was great to see Dar (who is the daughter of my co-author Janelle; we wrote this book together). And the timing was perfect, because she had a one-hour break in her teaching schedule. We learned that as a Covid precaution, large classes are split up into several smaller meetings...which has more than doubled the time she teaches, giving the same lecture over and over. But she had a smile on her face as we chatted about academia and life. The university is lucky to have her.


With Dar


A few more hours of driving, and we stopped for lunch in St. Louis at Seedz in the leafy Forest Park neighborhood. I had the best vegan Cesar salad ever. 


Dave captured the St. Louis skyline out the car window.



Outside Seedz


A few hours more, and we made it to our Boonville, Missouri Airbnb. The place didn't live up to its cute listing. It was a basement apartment that felt very...basementy. (Cold, dark, damp.) The space heater didn't do enough to combat the chill, and fuses blew a few times. Fortunately, the owner was there and tripped the switch, but for $74 we could have gotten a good hotel room. (Check out this article about why Airbnb prices are going up.)


7.  Another five-hour driving day lay ahead to get to Hays, Kansas. Many people had mentioned that driving through Kansas was boring, but I didn't mind the green-and-gold landscape. And we broke up the trip with a stop in Kansas City for lunch at Cafe Gratitude. 


Food was good but a bit too pricey.

This happened to be a Wednesday, the day I Zoom with three of my girlfriends (and former colleagues) every-other-week. You can see my friend Cathy from the UK on my phone, but I swear I went outside for the conversation!

We had another good hotel experience at the Days Inn in Hays. Great price, comfy bed to lay down our road-weary heads. Oh, and a TV to watch The Voice.

What a joy to wake up the next morning realizing we had only one more five-hour segment to get to our next destination: Denver. We've now been in Colorado a couple of weeks, and I'll tell you all about it in my next installment. 

Car tripping isn't for everyone--and as I said in a previous post, we're in the middle of a road adventure that started in California and, in the spring, will end in Baja Sur, Mexico. It's likely our last big long-distance drive. Yet writing has made me appreciate how much of this vast and complex and beautiful country we've seen.