Here, in Ohio…

Every morning I wake up, stare out the window, and say to myself I can’t believe I get to live here. 

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Our little house in the Northeast Ohio woods is surrounded by a creek and covered by a canopy of trees I have yet to identify. One of my favorites, the one I kept referring to as a weeping pine, was determined to be a Norwegian spruce by my father, an Ohioan by birth. It turns out Norwegian spruces were my grandfather’s favorite tree. A Dayton native, my grandfather passed away in South Florida just months after I was born. I have no memories of him, but it’s nice to know that our mutual affection for these Norwegian spruce tree still connects us.

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While we have only lived here a month, we have been keeping ourselves busy at home, at school, and around town. My parents and younger brother came to visit for a week, prompting me to actually leave the house. I took them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the next. One morning my brother borrowed the car to drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and did a short solo hike to Brandywine Falls. Then he and my dad tested out Cleveland’s mass transit system and took a train down to Little Italy while my mom, Ella, and I shopped at Ulta. Poor Matt had to work all week, though he was able to break free a few times. Jobs – always getting in the way of all the fun.

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One place we all really seem to enjoy is the village of Chagrin Falls. I find myself there at least once a week, either browsing the bookstore, meeting other Great Pyrenees parents (there are a lot of Pyrs in this area!), or walking down to view the waterfall. Of course, while my family was visiting we took them out there a few times: once to view the falls, another time to eat dinner, and, finally, to try Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (which was recommended by my brother at the insistence of a local-but-now-New Hampshire-based friend of his). Ice creams puts me in literal physical pain, but the Gooey Butter Cake and Lavender Wildberry flavors were worth it. I’m going back soon for a scoop of Birch and Marshmallow, stomach ailments be damned.

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As I write this, all four dogs are snoozing away, some more loudly than others (ahem…Teddy). The squirrels are chattering away, as are the birds. I hear absolutely no traffic besides the scattering of leaves while the chipmunks scurry all over the place. I can’t see them but I hear them.

It’s so quiet here.

Art and Politics

During my senior year of high school, I lived in the D.C. area where my art teacher took a couple of paintings I’d done in class and submitted them to a congressional art showing. They were accepted and prepared for display. The art teacher, Mr. Hurley, contacted my parents to let them know to show up at some community building in District Heights for the awards ceremony. Plans were made. My mother went out and bought me a dress. All of this was done behind my back, of course. I don’t remember being told of any of this until the Saturday morning we were expected to show up, so I might have a few details wrong. I mostly remember Mr. Hurley giving me some kind of GOTCHA! face when I showed up to class on Monday morning. He knew I’d never submit any of my own work so he did it for me and hoped I wouldn’t be mad at him.

I didn’t win any awards, but the kid who did win complimented me (which is kind of like getting an award, I think) on my painting of a yellow horse. The art show directors took all of our artwork to be displayed in the halls of Congress for the next twelve months, then the congressmen promised we’d have them returned to us by the following November. I provided the Maryland congressman my mailing address on a super fancy form and entrusted him with returning my personal artwork.

I relied on a government official. Hahaha! I was just a kid…

That high school art class was the last time, until recently, I had ever done anything artistic. My daughter is an incredible artist (this kid can bust out a portrait done in black watercolor on her first attempt), and for years she encouraged me to get back into it. It being anything: pastels, watercolors, sketching, oil crayons, charcoal, etc. So I did! But with most of my art supplies awaiting me in a suburban Cleveland storage unit, I haven’t been up to much. But yesterday, I started emptying my iPhone of photos and came across some of my recent sketches and paintings.

I hadn’t noticed it until now, but all the watercolors are kind of representative of places I’ve lived. Except the birch trees. At the time I was just wanting to paint birch trees, but now I can look back and remember how badly I’ve wanted to live in a place that was full of birch trees. My new house in Ohio is surrounded by a tiny forest of birch trees! Maybe I should attempt to paint a billion dollars, just to see if that comes true, too.

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About this drawing: I found some chalk pastels in Elle’s closet during a massive spring cleaning and decided I need a break from my Auschwitz class. As you can probably tell, Auschwitz wasn’t too far from my mind. It wasn’t until after I finished the train entrance that I realized the building looked like a face, a super creepy face, with its mouth wide open to gobble up the incoming detainees.

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Remember that congressman I mentioned? His name is Albert Wynn. A few months after he took my address and promised to send me my art pieces, he got caught up in a juicy scandal that was the result of him leaving his wife for a white woman. (If you’ve ever lived in the DC metro area, especially in predominantly black Prince George’s County, Maryland, black men who chose to be with white women – in the 1990s, at least – committed a major cultural infraction). So while I understand Congressman Wynn probably had other things tying up his time, it has been 21 years. I’m still waiting…

Road Trip to Cleveland

The night before we left for our most recent house hunting trip to Cleveland, one of Oklahoma’s infamous midnight thunderstorms barreled through the city. The lightning was unforgiving. The thunder was relentless. So for three hours I comforted a terrified Great Pyrenees who was shaking from head to tail. I doled out a ridiculous amount of cuddles, pets, and calmly spoken reassurances. We moved from room to room as Ari searched for the safest area of the house in which to panic, spending most of our time in the bathroom. A hyperventilating Pyrenees is no fun. Nobody slept except the other dogs, although Matt caught a few hours. But since I wasn’t the driver, I very much looked forward to sleeping in the car.

Be careful what you wish for.

The usual 17-hour drive was stretched out to 23 hours. We nearly ran out of gas in rural Oklahoma and then passed up the last hotel to be had in western Ohio. So we headed to Dayton. Sold out. We then headed to Springfield, nestled between Dayton and Columbus. Sold out. Finally we decided to shoot for Columbus. It was nearly midnight and every room in this city was also sold out. It was the weekend before the Republican National Convention, yet I cannot blame the Republicans for this. It was just a busy weekend of family reunions, weddings, and softball tournaments. But I wanted to prove to my husband that I am adventurous, flexible, go-with-the-flow-ish (!!!!!!), so I agreed to pull into a rest stop north of Columbus and sleep in the car. We were both exhausted, but Matt was barely functioning in a kind of catatonic-autopilot state of existence. There were no options.

So we flipped the backseat down, whipped out the sleeping bags, and opened up the moonroof. I brushed my teeth in a public interstate bathroom and tried to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of 18-wheelers entering the highway from our rest stop ramp all while staying poorly cocooned inside my sleeping bag. We were two hours away from our final destination. Two hours! Mere minutes (considering that day’s mileage) from the Cleveland suburbs! This was a fact I could not ignore. Believing that a comfortable bed might be within driving distance kept me awake, cursing our bad luck. That being the lack of sleep from the previous night, the close call with running out of gas, the nonexistence of a vacant hotel room in all of Ohio, so far. We had to push through! We needed to root for ourselves! We needed a comeback! Could Cleveland be our Believeland, too?

At 3am, I woke up my husband and pretty much demanded we come up with a better solution. (I guess this means I am not only NOT adventurous, flexible, or go–with-the-flow-ish at all, but I’m also very rude.) We had a meeting scheduled with our realtor at noon; our entire afternoon would be packed with touring homes and driving from one house to another. We needed sleep. REAL SLEEP. Even if it was just a glorified hours-long nap. I called the hotel we were scheduled to check into the following night and explained our situation. The auditor was happy to get us into our room a day early. He was even happier to charge us for a full night even though we didn’t arrive until 5:30 in the morning!

Whatever. HERE’S ALL OUR MONEY. JUST GIVE US A BED.

And we slept. Well, I slept. Matt woke up a few hours later and went to secure a storage unit, then unloaded the entire U-Haul trailer by himself. I woke up at 10:30 feeling exactly like you’d expect someone who had just spent 23 hours in the car to feel (this includes the hours spent trying to sleep in the backseat). I can’t explain how Matt felt, but he is obviously superhuman.

And that’s pretty much when things started to improve. We visited about eight homes in two days. One property smelled like the seller’s cats had peed on every square inch of the house. Another strange-smelling home was next to a trigger-happy gun enthusiast who decided that the moment we arrived to tour the house was the moment he would fire off every weapon he owned. And in quick succession! We left that place quickly.

There were lake homes and short sales. There were homes in the suburbs and homes in the country. There were reasonably priced homes with astronomical taxes, and there were unreasonably priced homes with astronomical taxes. Holy crap. THE TAXES!

Welcome to Northeast Ohio. HERE’S ALL OUR MONEY. JUST GIVE US A HOUSE.

Well, we got us a house. It’s a split level with a sunny, red-tiled kitchen, and it’s situated on an acre and a half of weeping pines, blue spruces, and birches. Instead of grass, we have a yard full of moss. There’s even a small creek running through the yard. And in two weeks, we leave Oklahoma for our new life in Ohio.

On our way to Cleveland, the moon and clouds over Indiana.
Indiana’s sunset, shortly before the fields exploded with lightning bugs.
Chagrin Falls
Part of our new front yard – behind that weeping pine is a creek! And if anyone knows what kind of tree that is, please share. I call it a weeping pine but I totally made that up because it looks like a sad, weeping pine. I know…how clever.
Our creek, complete with minnows and turtles and plenty of frogs.
Sunset in the Ozarks on our way back to Oklahoma.

Great Lakes Magic

A friend and fellow blogger recently got in touch with me and asked, “Where ya been? You haven’t posted since April!” Mostly I’ve been nowhere, or right here, in the same spot I’m always in. There has been little excitement so, therefore, there has been little to share.

I take that back. But, honestly, the exciting stuff didn’t happen until recently.

For a few days back in early June, I was in Cleveland. We all were in Cleveland. A job interview for my husband morphed into a family vacation of sorts. The kind of family vacation where the husband goes to his job interview while the kid and I binge-watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Teen Mom OG in the hotel room, because we love our trash TV.

During pockets of free time, we visited downtown Chagrin Falls (where one independent bookseller proceeded to sing the first few lines from the title song from Oklahoma! to make me feel welcome) and visited a few homes for sale in the villages of Kirtland, Chardon, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. We like to be prepared, and the idea of having to rush a cross-country move with four large dogs and a teenager beginning high school motivated us to get our options in line ASAP. That is if the opportunity to move there was presented.

The first thought that crossed my mind was How are you going to deal with winter, Dena? You’re a big baby. Let it be known that I spent a total of 9 years of my childhood in the Great Lakes region, digging out of 8-foot snowdrifts, climbing trees, avoiding black bears in the woods, and dipping my little-kid toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Northeast Ohio has birches and blue spruce, rocky hills and waterfalls, black bears and chipmunks, and ridiculously friendly people who talk like me. Maybe there in Cleveland, I thought, I wouldn’t sound so funny to everyone else. My accent wouldn’t be an accent. It’s just how people talk up there.

One thing I had to do before we returned to Oklahoma, however, was dip my now-grownup toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Erie. This would put my HOMES checklist at over half! My mother insists I can also count Lake Huron as an early Great Lake encounter, but I don’t remember it so I don’t feel like that’s a fair statement. If I made it to Lake Erie during this trip I would only have two Great Lakes left in order to completely knock out my toe-dipping adventures: Huron and Ontario. But what if we didn’t return? What if this was my only chance with Lake Erie?

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So we headed out on our last night in town to find a spot for some toe-dipping. The water was too cold for toe-dipping, so I opted to rest my hands in it instead. And for about an hour, the family just enjoyed being…well, just being. We talked about fishing for lake trout and exploring local breweries, about the Cleveland Indians and how summers feel more humane there. We walked back and forth along the beach and picked through the shore’s smoothed rocks to find a few favorites to bring home.

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When I got back to Oklahoma City, I immediately placed my Lake Erie rocks in with one of my favorite potted plants. We have an interesting collection of Oklahoma rose rock and other unique pieces of stone in and around the garden and it seemed the right spot for these rocks to be.

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Each time I went outside to weed around the basil or pick the snap peas, I would venture over to my lobelia and lemon thyme, pick up a Lake Erie rock, and rub it with my thumb and forefinger. I wished on it. I talked to it. I treated it like it was a talisman that held some sort of Great Lakes magic. And, guys, it must have worked.

We are moving to Cleveland next month.

 

New Beginnings

It is springtime, finally. My clematis is beginning to bloom and all the trees are filling out with leaves. So far we’ve had two nighttime thunderstorms roll through the city. All the parts of the state that were experiencing drought are now experiencing flash flooding. The wind keeps bringing down tree limbs that have been barely hanging on since last year’s ice storm. No tornadoes yet, though we usually save those up for the month of May. I think I’ve lived here long enough to recognize humidity. It is still a thing I smell before I feel.

My husband was laid off from his long-term job a few months ago. For years we had discussed this possibility, seeing as the oil and gas industry has been schizophrenic as of late. It was to be our ticket out of Oklahoma, this layoff. A way to start over somewhere else, maybe, but without the responsibility of having to decide to quit a stable job for something that was a big, big risk. When you don’t have a job, you don’t have the risk. Or so I thought.

Any change is still a big risk. The kid is finally happy here. Ridiculously happy, I might add. A move to any part of the country will, for her, be dramatic, traumatic, devastating, etc. My husband is fairly easygoing, but as the sole provider of the family for the last four years, he carries a lot of stress these days. He has had to consider moving to a city that he would never live in otherwise, if he has a choice. Which, hopefully, we still have for a while longer. What are the pet laws in other cities? We are not separating our family, dogs included. It is something we didn’t think about before. We never had to. And I have decided to put graduate school on hold. When you are calculating your savings into how many months your mortgage can be paid on time, a master’s degree isn’t a priority.

Yet, I am ready to go. Somewhere. (Almost) Anywhere. It is exciting, and a bit terrifying, to see what happens next. Where will it be? Are we staying? Are we going? Will it be different? Will it be the same? Will everyone be okay?

Until then, we have been going on with our lives as though we will be staying in Oklahoma City. Elle has submitted her high school electives for 9th grade (this fall – can you believe it!?). I planted tomatoes and eggplant and multi-colored bell peppers that I hope to be able to enjoy.  There are no plans for a summer vacation. Maybe a weekend visit to Hot Springs, Arkansas, or Dallas. But a vacation anywhere else seems irresponsible, frivolous.

The writing cabin is mostly finished. There are just a few things that need to be done – namely the ceiling panel boards. I spend about 3-5 hours a day in here doing reading assignments and writing short essays. I am currently finishing up a research paper and looking forward to only one more week of school. Since October I have been steady working on Russian trauma, Nazi atrocities, and the black experience in America. It’s all been very depressing, but I’m more than halfway through my degree work.

I have watched baseball games, gymnastics championships, and a show about alien abductions in my cabin. I have also read novels in here, for fun. I have fallen asleep with the windows open and woken up to birds and squirrels chattering away. It’s my favorite place, this cabin. And, if we end up moving, it is definitely coming with us. That’s the only thing we are certain about right now.

I love this little cabin. And I've already had a sparrow family move in to my petunia basket! They're quiet neighbor's, so far, until the kids get hungry. #Scissortail #cabin #tinyhouse #sheshed #writingstudio//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Ice Storm

To call Oklahoma’s weather inconsistent is an understatement. In fact, a friend of mine recently called Oklahoma’s weather “a bipolar bitch.” It makes total sense if you live here. That our Thanksgiving weekend ice storm was topped off with a 4.5 earthquake came as no surprise. At this point we Oklahomans expect seismic activity to bring down the curtain on all of our major weather events. Are you familiar with the term quakenado? Of course it’s a real thing. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s Oklahoma.

We woke up early Saturday morning to the strange quiet of a power outage. After crawling out of bed, we puttered around the house unsure of what to do once we realized nothing works without power. Elle decided to do some drawing. Matt decided to do some gaming on his phone. I decided to put on two pairs of pants, three shirts, a scarf, hat, and fingerless gloves just so I could crawl back under the flannel sheets of my bed and read. It was 52 degrees inside the house.

Nena’s, a restaurant only a block away, provided us with power, heat, lights, and a filling breakfast. Nobody really wanted to go home after that, but where else could we go? We had already driven down streets on which power lines and whole trees had come down, stressed to their limits from the weight of all the ice. So back at home, we lit our gas stove to heat up a kettle of water for hot chocolate. Then Elle and I bundled up and stood on the porch where we watched neighborhood trees fall and listened to transformers explode. We used to do this back in Florida when a hurricane was blowing through. It’s pretty much the same here – only colder.

The dogs couldn’t play or pee outside unattended for three days. To have one get hit by a broken tree limb, a melting chunk of ice, or a snapped live electrical wire in our yard was just too risky to let them out alone. This past weekend was a test of everyone’s patience, and all the dogs’ bladders.

We were the lucky ones, however, who got our power back by Saturday afternoon. Our neighbors behind us just got theirs restored yesterday. Others have had to wait an entire week. The street is flanked on both sides by the remains of downed trees and various limbs, but everything has returned to normal. For the next few days, my husband will be doing the majority of our yard work with a chainsaw. And tonight we enjoyed the hot tub again with no more fear that the pecan tree would collapse onto our heads, drowning us both in a spectacular fashion. Believe me, I was so cold at one point that I still considered risking a dip in the hot tub…while wearing my husband’s motorcycle helmet, of course. You know, just in case.

 

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The Migratory Instinct

Years ago when I first moved to Florida, I thought I was done with all the moving. That that move was the last move. At least, the moving from state to state, country to country – it was all over. I had a baby in Gainesville and moved to Jacksonville, so the whole idea of relocating within Florida wasn’t out of the question completely. But I believed and finally felt like I was a Floridian, once and for all. I’d grown up in places that were not Florida, yet my parents held Florida residencies no matter where we lived. Their driver’s licenses, the tags on every vehicle we owned, absentee voter’s paperwork. All Florida. They were Floridians and I, by familial association, always thought I was a Floridian, too.

I made it to Florida in 1996 and it felt good to have a legitimate residency, a place I didn’t have to leave unless I chose to do so. And I eventually did just that. The move to Oklahoma was traumatic, to say the least. I fought any and all nesting instincts that tried to surface. The idea of settling in was completely rejected. Why was this so hard? Why was this so much work? So for three years, when I talked about the South, I called it home. When I talked about Florida, I called it home. When I talked about my parents’ house, I called it home.

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Well, I finally had a breakthrough. And I have New Mexico, of all places, to thank for it. I am not special, this I know. At least not in the sense that I used to think I was – a global nomad, a restless spirit, wandering the continent (or, really, the East Coast) in search of home or, when times got really desperate, any sense of belonging. Somehow, though, halfway between Oklahoma City and Santa Fe, I felt another connection to another kind of landscape. A landscape that features tumbleweeds, coyotes, mesas, and sagebrush. These few things are what brought back my migratory instinct.

Since we returned from our spring break vacation in New Mexico and Colorado, I have found myself pining for the desert and mountains of the southwest more often than I have been pining for Florida. This in no way means I don’t think fondly of Florida. In fact, I think we had one of the best relationships ever! That’s a trick I’ve learned to employ recently – thinking back on my connections to certain places and considering my relationships with them. Like former boyfriends, I have my favorites: Italy, Upper Michigan, and Florida top the list. Prince George’s County, Maryland? You’ll always be the worst and I never want to see you again. Go to hell.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, has been good to me. Oklahoma has been patient with me. Oklahoma has offered me so many different landscapes. It’s like she’s trying so hard to get me to connect with her, to connect with something about her. Like me, Dena. Please! She has mountains, forested hills, lakes that are covered in morning fog. She has wild weather like ginormous tornadoes and ice storms, but she makes up for that with sunsets that knock my damn socks off. She has tallgrass prairies, canyons, and my beloved bison, which I’ve resorted to calling Land Manatees. She even has mesas and salt flats. So what took me so long?

Me. I was the problem this whole time. That is usually the answer to most of my problems and, to be honest, the hardest truth to swallow. But I’ve gulped it down, along with my pride (because I’m so sorry you all had to listen to me whine for three years!), and I have learned to just be where I am. And where I am ain’t too shabby.

Take a look:

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Things I wish I'd known prior to my canyon hike: 1. Wagon wheel ruts are still visible in the park, which once served as part of the California Road. 2. The canyon is the only place the native Caddo Maple tree still grows and thrives. 3. Yes, Oklahoma h

It turns out I live less than an hour away from a canyon. Considering how badly I want to return to New Mexico, to the mesas and the sagebrush, I thought it was a good idea to take a walk through a canyon. It’s very un-Oklahoman, a canyon, but it’s not very New Mexico-ish, either. The visit to Red Rock Canyon didn’t necessarily scratch the New Mexico itch, but it gave me back my migratory instinct – that inner restlessness and rootlessness that has always felt like a curse to me. Except it doesn’t feel like a curse anymore.

Oklahoma and I had a good heart-to-heart this year. I have left this place to go to other places – Santa Fe, Denver, and again to Florida. But in the end, I always come home to Oklahoma and I am quite alright with this arrangement. Finally. I’m a Third Culture Kid, there’s no denying it. I will still call myself a Floridian, but I also call myself a Wisconsinite and a Yooper. I have called all those places home. They are all a part of me. These are the places my family comes from. But I am also an Oklahoman. This is where my family is.

Until we move somewhere new…

(I can’t tell you what a relief this is. Migratory instinct, WELCOME BACK!)

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Books I’ve read (and recommend):

The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits (which has the most stunning cover art, because I do judge books by their covers) – I can’t even explain this one. Julavits uncovers her childhood diary and decides to take up the art form as an adult. Her writing is gorgeous, just like the cover.

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Gulia Enders – I will never be able to feel unwell again without considering yogurt for dinner. Something most of us should probably do more often, anyway.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Stories From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty – I always thought I wanted to be cremated and to have my husband take me in a small container on all his global adventures. His future wife would have to be okay with me always being on vacation with them, but only to scatter me into the wind in whatever country it is they’re visiting. I still want that to happen (does a blog post serve as a legally binding notice as far as dealing with my remains?), but I would also like to be put into the ground somehow, too. Animals and vegetables gave me life and I’d like to return the favor.

Currently reading:

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – I love this woman and I plan to drive to Wichita, Kansas, in a few weeks to meet her. Another thing Oklahoma has provided me – proximity to Liz Gilbert.