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.

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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.

Breaking Ground

A few months ago, my husband and I started talking about renovating certain parts of the house. Namely the unfinished and roomy attic space. We discussed turning it into a game room, a television room, our new master bedroom (which would then mean we needed to install a second bathroom), or my own office space. Two things came from this brainstorming session:

  1. A second bathroom would be really nice, whether we decided to renovate the attic or not.
  2. Renovating an attic into a livable, usable space is really expensive. Too expensive. I’ve seen enough HGTV to know any estimate should be multiplied by, like, three. Time and money. No, thanks.

But then all this talk about actually having my own office space got me thinking about actually having my own office space! While that wasn’t necessarily in the plans to begin with, it has been an ongoing issue in our house. Matt and I have tried sharing the front room with each one of us sitting at desks facing an opposite wall. That worked for him just fine (he’s way more easygoing than I am about most things in general), but I don’t like writing unless I’m alone and the noises from his video games are sometimes very distracting. Then we thought moving me into the bedroom would be a good solution. The newness of that wore off quickly once I realized I had to turn on the white-noise machine to drown out the aforementioned video game noises that traveled easily down the hall. Also, constantly get up to let a dog in or out, or having Elle walk through to get to the kitchen (it’s a two-door room and a closer route).

Then I suddenly noticed how much time I spent in my bedroom. I read in my bedroom. I studied in my bedroom. I researched, I wrote, I tried to decompress in my bedroom. I watched television in my bedroom. Sometimes I even ate in my bedroom. And then, when all that was over and done, I’d go to sleep in my bedroom.

That kind of isolation can make a person nutty. Even me, and I’m the kind of person who really thrives on isolation. Geez, introvert too much? I got really sick of my bedroom.

I told Matt, rather emotionally, that we needed to find a fix. Either we had to buy a new house with a separate room for me or we’d get that ridiculously unaffordable attic office space. I wasn’t even close to joking around.

We agreed on something else instead. It comes to about 1/16th the cost of a basic attic renovation and 1/40th the cost of a new house – one that probably had a crappy lot size, anyway. What did we agree on? A backyard cabin. A she-shed, a writer’s studio, an artist’s loft, a whatever-you-want-to-call-it. A 12×12, 244 square foot space that is mine, a place where I will have the quiet I need to study, to research, to write, to decompress. No dogs, no noise, no interruptions.

A week ago we drove down to Blanchard and put in our order. The construction company is building the cabin this week and we expect it to be delivered sometime over the next two weeks. After that we still have to deal with insulation and drywall, flooring installation, electric and a small heating/air conditioning unit. Then there’s painting and decorating and lighting and landscaping and porch furniture. Porch furniture? Yes, my cabin has a 12×4 porch! Which is where the dogs will hang out, because I’ll be damned if I have to lug a vacuum cleaner from the house to the cabin just to vacuum up even more dog hair.

Up to this point we’ve prepped the cabin site as best we can. There’s really not much more to do except wait for the structure to be placed. So here is a photographic journal of sorts of what we have managed to get done thus far – and by we I mean mostly Matt and his friends, because by the third shovelful of dirt I had thrown out my back, then I went under for an unrelated minor surgery and was out of commission for about 4 weeks. When it comes to physical labor I’m totally useless. But I can pick out paint and flooring, no problem!

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Foreman Teddy

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Ted and Abbey, just two of our mutts soaking up the view from their soon-to-be porch.

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Getting ready to till the ground

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Two weekends worth of dirt for my husband, or How I Threw Out My Back

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We filled in the uneven spots in our yard in the hopes that grass would grow and give them a nice cover. Ari didn’t approve of that idea, but she did approve of more dirt holes. This dog loves lying in dirt holes.

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Helpful advice: These are good sized chunks of rock and do not move easily. Ask your delivery driver to dump a load, move forward, dump another load, more forward, dump another load…you know, so that it’s not all in one unbelievable unmovable pile.

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Hahaha, a shovel. To move all that rock. Ain’t happening, but let me introduce you to my optimistic husband with a can-do attitude.

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Shovels, buckets, bare hands, and feet. That’s how we moved it. And since I am afraid of shovels (I have an old lady back), I used my bare hands. Totally works.

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Ta-da! A full morning’s work.

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My flooring selection. I had to think about seasons and coziness and how I go absolutely batshit crazy in the winter when everything is gray. I chose this because it has hints of orange and hints of gray – the cool and the warm, the yin and yang? And it was on SUPER MAJOR sale, which is always a plus.

PS. Does anyone know how to rid my Flickr photos of that embed link? 

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There once was a girl named Julie

When I was ten years old, I learned my best friend had died from leukemia. Her name was Julie, and she once was my favorite person, in the way little girls choose their favorite person. We met in Italy in the first grade, in Mrs. Pendleton’s class. Or had we met in kindergarten and carried our friendship over into first grade? I don’t remember. Actually, after thirty-plus years I don’t remember much about Julie at all, but I do still remember how much I missed her not going on our class field trip to the zoo.

That morning I sat on a double-seat bench in the middle of the bus and didn’t talk to anyone else. Then I waited and waited and waited for Julie to climb aboard and sit next to me, except she never came. The bus started up, and Mrs. Pendleton and my mother, who had volunteered to be our class chaperon that day, whispered to one another a few seats in front of me. The engine was running; my classmates were being told to sit down. And I started to panic. Where is Julie? Why isn’t she here? I told Mrs. Pendleton that we couldn’t leave yet. We had to wait for Julie. Then Mrs. Pendleton and my mother had another quiet but short conversation. They invited me to sit up front with them where I was told, sympathetically but without much fuss, that Julie had moved away.

It wasn’t unusual for friends to move away. It wasn’t unusual not to have a chance to say goodbye to each other. Julie and I both lived in Italy not because we were Italian, but because our fathers were in the military. This is how life as a military kid works: you move, you make friends. Then you move again, and you make new friends. Sometimes you get to stay and your friend has to move and make new friends. You do this so much that it becomes second nature, but as you get older you recognize the importance of saying goodbye to people you might never see again.

This is not, however, the moment I learned that she had died. That moment came much later, when I was in the fourth grade at a new school, on the other side of the world from where Julie and I had become best friends. And when I learned she had died, I was devastated. Julie, it turns out, had moved away because she became sick. I was never really lied to, but her family had to rush her back to the states in order to get her the best treatment possible. As my mother stood in the kitchen telling me this, I was stopped midway on the stairs, not sure whether to go upstairs or down. So I just stood there. My mother asked me if I was okay. Yes, I was okay. She asked me if I had any questions. No, I didn’t have any questions. Then she asked me if I even remembered Julie. No, I didn’t. I didn’t remember Julie, my best friend. And that’s why I was devastated.

I remember there once was a girl named Julie who I absolutely adored. I remember there once was a girl named Julie and I missed her terribly on that class trip to the zoo. I remember there once was a girl named Julie and we were such good friends that we would sometimes hold hands. I remember there once was a girl named Julie, but I don’t remember her. Not her face, not the color of her hair, not the sound of her voice, or even the feel of her hand.

I remember nothing about her, yet I often find myself thinking of her.

Road Trip Through the Deep South

There will always be something about the south that makes me happy. Here are a few of those somethings:

  • Barbecue and sweet tea in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • The sight of the big, open waters of Mobile Bay in Mobile, Alabama.
  • Manatees.
  • Palm trees.
  • Publix subs, if I’m being honest here. (And I am, considering we went to Publix for dinner on the night we arrived in Crystal River, Florida. THEN we checked into our hotel. And I ate Publix subs four times in three days.)
  • Driving across three major bridges in the city of Jacksonville, Florida, because that’s the only way to get around.
  • Being chased out of the ocean by lightning and rainstorms, only to decide to come back first thing the next day. Also, no shark attacks! (Did you know there’s an app for that?)
  • Spanish moss and the sweet, sickly smell of candy shops, paper mills, and river traffic in Savannah, Georgia.
  • Crossing the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, after watching Fourth of July fireworks from our hotel beds.
  • Kudzu forests that can be seen from the interstate throughout Arkansas.
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An Old Florida/Cracker Florida landscape – Homosassa Springs, Fla.

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A manatee in Crystal River, Fla.

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Taken from the underwater observation dock in Homosassa Springs. The permanent damage on both of her flippers was caused by entangled fishing lines.

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Morning at Peter’s Point Beach on Amelia Island, Fla.

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Majestic old oak trees at Johnson Square in Savannah, Ga.

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River Street at night in Savannah.

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Johnson Square. Memorials. Live oaks. Bliss.

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Looking across the Mississippi River into Arkansas from downtown Memphis, Tenn.

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I finally saw my Peabody ducks.