California

I returned yesterday from a week in California – a vacation that was part solo adventuring, part family visit. My brother lives in Vacaville, near Sacramento. I flew in on Saturday the 16th and rented a car. (My layover was in Phoenix, and the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento took us over Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Luckily, I had a window seat.)

I didn’t go sightseeing every day I was there. It rained steadily for a couple of days, so I stayed in and streamed movies and TV (something I rarely do, so it was a luxury in and of itself). I went on a couple hikes with my brother and nieces at local parks. Our hike last Sunday at Rockville Hills Regional Park in Fairfield (4 miles total) was pretty challenging, especially due to some pretty serious erosion of the trails from all the recent rain. But we soldiered through and awarded ourselves with ice cream from Fosters Freeze afterwards.

Mostly, I want to talk about my solo adventures, which took place Tuesday and Thursday.

Tuesday

On Tuesday morning, I drove to Suisun Marsh and visited Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. It’s a dream destination for birdwatchers and/or photographers. They also have a population of Tule Elk there, which are somewhat elusive, from my understanding. It was a happy accident that I was scanning the landscape through my camera’s zoom lens and spotted one. Unfortunately, it was too far away for my camera to get a decent shot. I took photos, but they’re not the best – only enough to prove that I saw one.

Here are a few other shots I took that day. (Note that I generally only do some cropping and maybe slight color correction. I rarely do heavy photo editing.)

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The driving tour of Grizzly Island took about two hours (with photo stops at almost every parking lot). It was lunchtime as I finished up my adventuring there, so I drove back into Suisun City to find something to eat. I ended up at Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue. I was lame and ordered the barbecue chicken bowl, which was basically just marinated chicken, vegetables, and rice. It was good but kind of boring. I bet I would have enjoyed it more if I had ordered something different. (They had Spam on their menu, but I had to draw the line somewhere. I don’t think there is any possible way to cook it that would make it taste good to me.)

Since I was in wine country (not Napa, which is nearby – been there, done that), I thought I should go to one of the less touristy wineries in Suisun Valley. Several of them were closed (on a Tuesday?), so I set my Google Map directions toward the first one I came across in Google that had Tuesday hours. It just so happened to be Wooden Valley Winery, which has excellent reviews. I was not disappointed. I thought the Riesling was particularly good, and I was informed that if I purchased a bottle for $16, the tasting fee ($15) would be waived. That’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned.

I also bought a glass of Riesling so I could relax on their beautiful patio and enjoy the perfect weather. I was given a free wine glass with their logo on it, which is actually one of those shatterproof stemless ones made out of plastic. That’s sort of perfect because I need a wine glass for our travel trailer anyway. (I collect wine glasses and I don’t have room for any more in my kitchen cabinets.)

So, if you happen to be in Suisun Valley and you want some wine, this place gets a big thumbs up from me. And I’m not a wine novice, for what it’s worth.

Thursday

I set my sights on the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden for Thursday. Gardens are a particular passion of mine, especially for photography. I’ve visited many public gardens across the U.S. and Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by my visit. This is one of the finest public gardens I’ve seen, full stop. And yes, it is California, but even so, I was amazed at everything that was blooming so early in the spring.

I’ll let my photos do most of the talking here. This place was unbelievable.

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Trust me, these photos don’t even do it justice.

This was my first trip out to California in six years, and I don’t want that much time to pass before going out there again. My nieces are growing so fast.

Casita Bonita

Three years ago, right around the time my husband retired from the Air Force, we still hadn’t made any firm decisions on what we were going to do post-retirement. I had a good job already, so we considered staying where we were (Annapolis, Maryland). He would either go back to school and finish his degree or find a job.

One of the other things we discussed was living full-time in an RV and working remotely as we traveled around the U.S. and Canada. We could make it work on his military pension and any additional income we generated from remote work. On several levels, this idea was extremely appealing to me. But I was also sick of moving around all the time and really just wanted to feel settled. I was also worried about the impractical aspects of it. What about medical care? I’d rather see one doctor regularly than a different one each time. (I was already tired of changing doctors every time we moved – and vet care for the dogs.) How would we get mail?

There are full-time RVers who make this work for them, and I knew on some level we could, too, but I just couldn’t bring myself to fully commit to the idea. Living in such a small space with two large dogs would also mean less privacy – nowhere to really go if either of us wanted some alone time.

And then it became a moot point. He started sending out job applications, and the State of Ohio called. So, here we are. We have the house. We’re settled. I have a different job now (still a good job, just different). He likes the work he does. We feel blessed to have the life we have.

But he still had that RVing itch that didn’t get scratched. He spent the past three years pining away for a Wanderlodge in particular. He came close to buying one not that long ago. He had enough doubts about it that he stopped himself.

But he still talked about how badly he wanted some kind of camper for weekend traveling. I argued about the impracticality of a large RV for weekend trips. If we were going to get one, it should be something smaller and easier to deal with if we wanted to go away on short notice. We could think about upgrading to an RV after civilian retirement, and then we could take longer trips.

I think I finally convinced him. Last weekend, he started making a case for the Casita Spirit. We watched a couple YouTube videos about the 2019 models and what they offered.

I really didn’t need convincing. I knew this was something he wanted so much and had saved for. It’s far more practical for us than an RV. It will be easier to store and maintain. And I really don’t mind what kind of travel trailer we get, so long as it has the basic amenities and we can be comfortable in it.

Earlier this week, I left town on a business trip. While I was gone, he talked to the folks at Casita. He got a quote and the paperwork. When I came back Thursday night, I just needed to sign it to make it official. Our order is in. It will be ready in May.

Our very own 2019 17-foot deluxe Casita Spirit!

We already have three camping trips booked. The first at Alum Creek State Park, then at a resort outside Mohican State Park (the weekend my brother runs the 100-mile race there – we’re crewing him), and then at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park for my husband’s birthday.

I’m already trying to think of a name for it. I mean, you have to name something like this, right?

I am a writer

(Hat tip: How to Say “I’m a Writer” and Mean It)

“Her name will appear on books someday.”

That’s what my sixth grade Language Arts teacher said at an awards ceremony with school faculty, staff, parents, and other students present. She was presenting me with a special award. I was a star pupil.

I suppose it was the moment I realized I was meant to be a writer. Before, I wrote without thinking much about it. She noticed my knack for it and felt the need to encourage it.

However, I never really lived up to her statement that my name would be on books. It has, but not in the way she meant. I’ve been quoted in a couple books: Once as a book reviewer (a snippet of my book review was printed on the author’s next novel) and another in a book about being child-free by choice.

As an author, no. My name has never been on a book and may never be.

But I am a writer.

Writers come in many forms. It always amazes me how nearly everyone, upon hearing I’m a writer, assumes I write books. As if that’s the only thing writers write.

No.

There are poets. There are essayists. Short story writers. Playwrights. Screenwriters. Bloggers. Copywriters. Journalists. Novelists. The list goes on. And I’m some of these things.

Don’t get me wrong, any of the writers listed above can publish books. But people who don’t know me generally assume I’m a novelist, as if writer = novelist. And that’s just not true.

I started a novel once. It was at some point when we lived in Germany. I think I managed to get about 60 pages into it, and then I realized I bit off more than I could chew. Things went off the rails and I gave up, overwhelmed.

I rarely think of that unfinished novel now, but I still have it on my hard drive. I am unwilling to let go of it entirely. As long as it stays there, there is possibility.

After Grandma died, I found a printout of the first chapter among her belongings. She was so excited when I told her I was writing a novel. My only regret is that I never finished it for her to read. If I ever do finish it, I am dedicating it to her. I can at least do that.

My writing journey has evolved a lot over the years. I used to read and write a lot of poetry. I don’t, now. I wrote a play or two when I was an undergraduate. I don’t think I was particularly good at it, but I was experimenting. I’ve written a few short stories here and there. But I don’t think I hit my stride until I discovered journalism, blogging, and copywriting. Those genres are where I seem to excel. I’ve made my career out of them.

Travel writing became my main focus when I lived in Germany. First, it was blogging – I kept a Blogger site detailing my travels for family and friends who were interested. Then my blog got noticed by a few people who wanted me to write travel guides and articles for various websites. I started getting paid to write about my travels. Sometimes I traveled just to write about it because an editor was interested in a particular place.

After I moved back to the US, I couldn’t keep up with the travel writing quite as much. I did a little here and there when we lived in Seattle and again in Maryland. But the focus shifted.

I started writing about education and careers – things like how to become a medical transcriptionist or how to improve your sixth grader’s vocabulary. Not the most creative stuff, but it was steady work. Then I got a steady gig writing short blog posts for various law offices – again, not super creative. I also had a brief stint transcribing letters to Congress. This entailed listening to phone surveys with constituents and typing up the messages they wished to convey to their senators and representatives.

I had better assignments than that. I’ve written for The Seattle Times (the jobs section) a couple times. That’s one of the giant feathers in my cap. So, too, is the assignment I got writing facility descriptions for recreation.gov (which still exist on the site at the time I write this). I also had an article published in Stars and Stripes European edition in my early days as a professional writer. Years later, I still got emails from people who found it helpful. (It was a piece about pottery shopping in Nove, Italy – a popular trip for military spouses.)

A lot of the things I have written in my career seem rather insignificant, but over time, they have added to a rather large body of work. And I’ve proven to myself that I’m versatile. I can write with authority on a broad range of topics. (Mad research skills – thanks, Liberal Arts degree!)

This has led me to where I am now – in the marketing department of an MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) distributor. I write and edit product copy. I write and edit blog posts. I write short and long pieces – some more journalistic, others more marketing. I try to be creative when possible, though tools, parts, and shop supplies aren’t the most inspiring topics.

And so, this blog. This is my creative space. When inspiration strikes, this is where I go. And I never know where inspiration will strike. Or when. I often don’t have the mental energy to write after doing it all day for work.

Yet, I’m a writer. I may not be a disciplined writer when it comes to what I write outside of work. But I write. Every day.

Will my name appear on books someday? I guess only time will tell.

Toward the sunshine

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Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you. – Walt Whitman
One of the habits I am trying to cultivate in 2019 is positivity. I’m a natural-born cynic with a giant sarcastic streak and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Add an emotionally abusive upbringing into the mix, and it’s no wonder that I tend toward the negative.

If you hear often enough that you’re worthless and stupid and fat and useless, those words become who you are. At least until you can think for yourself and realize none of that is true. Then it’s a battle to overcome those words that shaped your identity for so many years, to strip them of the power they held over you for so long.

It was just over seven years ago that I had one of the defining moments of my life. I realized the person who had been showering me with these negative words since I was born (even before then, according to family members) was not entitled to be part of my life. As an adult, I decide who gets to participate in my life. I suddenly realized that blood/genetic ties and convention don’t dictate that – *I* do.

It’s powerful to realize that. And it changed my life.

That toxic influence was cut out of my life. I’ve been on a path to healing since then. It’s a rocky path, to be sure, but I know I’m heading in the right direction. Each day I get further away from that toxic influence, I get closer to finding peace. I’m shedding the weight of those ugly words and finding my true self.

I’m walking toward the light, and the shadows are behind me.

Goals

I had two major goals for 2018: Read at least 50 books and find a new job.

I’m pleased to say I did both. I’m currently on book 56, and I started a new job in June after working in a very toxic environment that was wreaking havoc on my emotional health. I’m in a much better place mentally now, and I’m doing work that fulfills me in an office environment that is sane and mostly drama-free.

Oh, and I did yoga for 30 straight days in January to kick off the year, which was pretty cool, too.

I’m still thinking through my 2019 goals, but I know I want to simplify my digital life and get my house better organized. Oh, and be less ambitious with the vegetable garden so I don’t bite off more than I can chew.

I also want to do more with my photography. I entered one photography competition this year, which was huge for me, and I want to do more of that. But that also means I actually need to get out more with my camera.

Anyway, in case you’re curious about my reading list for 2018, it’s here.

Tights and Tutus and Christmas Tradition

The holiday season is now in full swing, though I’ve barely managed to do anything so far. I at least started my shopping and have some decorations up. (No tree, yet – not until tomorrow.) And I’m about halfway through my cards.

Later today, I will indulge in one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

I grew up with The American Ballet Theatre’s 1977 version of The Nutcracker, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. It debuted on PBS when I was just two years old, and it became a holiday staple. I was enraptured by it as a little girl, and I am sure this was a big reason I had dreams of being a ballerina. (Never came close to that dream, though I took a ballet class when I was at Ohio State as one of my electives.)

Mom and I watch this every year. As I got older, I began to see how very cheesy a lot of this production is. It’s very dated – a lot of ‘70s hair going on, for starters. And the special effects are laughable now. It’s a bit anachronistic, given that the story is set in the 19th century. And Drosselmeyer…. oh, Drosselmeyer. This Drosselmeyer is especially entertaining. In a goofy way.

But the dancing is swoonworthy. Baryshnikov and Kirkland are absolute magic together. And I have never seen a male dancer yet who can compare to Baryshnikov in his prime (which is when this was filmed). Holy moly, his solos just blow my mind.

I’m glad Mom and I are in the same geographic area now so we can watch this together. While I was living in Germany, Seattle, and Maryland, we at least tried to watch it on the same day. There were a few years when we’d watch it at the same time and discuss it over the phone. (We now have this MST3K sort of thing going on with it.) A tradition is a tradition, and we did our best to maintain it even if I was halfway around the world.

So, Mom, prepare the eggnog. I’ll be over in a few hours.

Thankful

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. That was always the big holiday in my family.

We’d gather at my grandparents’ house in Findlay, Ohio. My aunt and cousins would drive in from Illinois. I had cousins who would come from South Carolina. For a few days each year, we would eat, laugh, play several games of Trivial Pursuit, and just generally enjoy being in each other’s company.

The last time I remember one of these big Thanksgivings was, I think, in 2005. I may be off by a year or so. My husband and I came in from Germany. It snowed. A LOT. I’ll always remember that – not only for the snow (which was a bit unusual) but also because Thanksgiving changed after that.

That’s how life works, doesn’t it? The grandkids grow up and get married. They get busier with adult responsibilities. It becomes more difficult to get together in large groups.

Our grandparents are gone now. Grandpa passed away in 1999, Grandma in 2011 (the last time we were all together again like old times was for her funeral). And with Grandma’s death, we had to say goodbye to their home forever. No more family gatherings there, no more making memories.

Thanksgivings have been smaller since then.

For several years, we couldn’t make it to Ohio. Thanksgivings in Seattle often included friends. In Maryland, we either had a quiet Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us with the dogs, or I ended up alone because my husband had other commitments. (Military life!) I didn’t mind being alone – I had the dogs after all. I made myself a nice meal, spent the entire day in my pajamas, and binge-watched TV.

Since we moved to Columbus, Thanksgivings have been at my parents’ place. My aunt and uncle come down from Cleveland. My youngest cousin, a student at Ohio University, also joins us. It’s the new normal, and I’ll always reminisce about those earlier Thanksgivings with a slight ache in my heart. I miss my grandparents. I miss those times.

Today, I’m thankful I have those memories. I’m thankful to have such a large, loving, joyful family that loves being together. I realize that I’m lucky. Not everyone had such happy times with their families. For some, holidays are fraught with anxiety and drama.

This morning, I will make my family favorite macaroni and cheese and some apple crisp. In a few hours, we’ll head over to my folks’ place for a wonderful feast. I still love Thanksgiving. It’s not as exciting now as it was when I was growing up, but it’s still family time, good food, and laughter.