Trucker Ted Rides Again

In August of 2016, we packed up all of our belongings and moved from Oklahoma City to the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. Teddy, the only one of our four dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the Penske. The other three – Chimay, Abbey, and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They were absolutely miserable. That’s probably why I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out at a truck stop in Greenup, Illinois, marveling at what his life had become as Trucker Ted.

His new name is Trucker Ted. 🚛 đŸ¶ #roadtrip #ohiobound #teddy #teddarcheese

A little over a week ago, we did it again. We packed up all of our belongings and moved from the east suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Teddy, the only one of our now-three dogs who was truly enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, got to ride shotgun with Dad in the U-Haul. (We learned our lesson with Penske.) The other two – Abbey and Ari – were crammed into whatever space was left available in the Subaru Outback.  They weren’t as miserable this time around, but miserable enough. That’s probably why, again, I have only this photograph of Teddy, smiling his big dopey grin while hanging out in our Northeast Ohio driveway, waiting to hit the road to New England and relive his days as Trucker Ted.

IMG_20180615_145722

*************

We have been in our new home for about eight days. The house sits on a mountain on the south end of Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton Bay. The bay at the end of our road serves as a public beach, a boat ramp, and a pick-up/drop-off site for visitors touring the lake on the Mount Washington. The nearest gas station and grocery store are in the next village over, which is not terribly far away at all. A few miles, maybe. But our small town has at least three ice cream shops, a seemingly unlimited supply of fried clams and haddock, a paddleboard and kayak store, and a ton of summer rentals.

Oh, and we also have this:

IMG_20180624_150339

At the risk of proclaiming this too prematurely, I must say we all seem to be quite happy here. We love our house. We love our property, on which we acquired a pool and an established perennial garden. We love our little town. We love that my brother lives an hour away. We love that the ocean is nearby, as well. We do not, however, love moving. Not anymore, anyway. And so, it seems, Trucker Ted’s days have come to an end and Teddy is plain ol’ Teddy once again.

(But how ’bout the coyote? Ooof.)

In Two Places at Once

Lake Ray

For six years I have learned to live where I am and where I want to be. Where I am is where I am. Oklahoma, Ohio, and wherever the next place is that isn’t where I want to be. Where I want to be is North Florida.

I say I would like to live in coastal Maine. I say I would like to live on a marsh in Delaware, maybe Eastern Maryland, near the islands where wild horses run. I say I would like to live in the Carolina lowcountry or, even, as a compromise with my husband, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville. Maybe Asheville. So many places I could choose. No longer will I go to a new place with expectations. No longer will I fight the possibility of going to a new place. No longer do I fight the reality of being in a new place. Now I know that home is south and I just happen to live up north.

We have already discussed it, my family and I, that here is not permanent. Cleveland is not permanent. Ohio is not permanent. At least, it is not a permanent stake in our plans. We are not building our future for here, only from here. But our daughter is at the age when she must start looking into colleges and deciding where she wants to be after she is no longer here with us. Even she wants to go home, to Florida. Although she sometimes talks of going home, to Oklahoma. Of course, she is welcome to stay with us, to stay near us, wherever we are. I would prefer that. And maybe we’ll end up selling this house, planting some shallow taproots elsewhere in Northeastern Ohio, buying acres and acres of land so I can plant fields of lavender and he can have space and she can learn to love the Great Lakes as much as I do. Those lakes welcomed me home nearly two years ago, just as the St. Johns River and Nassau Sound welcome me home again each time I return to North Florida.

Untitled

In a few weeks, I am heading home. And after a week, I will be returning home. From here to there. From there to here. Living in two places at once. It’s easier to do that from here, in Ohio, as opposed to in Oklahoma. Maybe because I don’t have to cross time zones. I don’t have to cross a river that operates as a boundary between east and west, a swirling seaway that simply served as a reminder that, for four years, I lived that much farther from the sea than I ever would have wanted.

Untitled

more moss

Now I can live in two places at once. I’m allowed to do that. I have given myself permission to call North Florida home, even if I never live there again. Home is also wherever I live at the moment. It is a house on a plot of land. And from that house on that plot of land I pack my bags once a year, maybe twice a year, and go home. To my other home. The home where I might find coral snakes on my porch, fist-sized spiders in my hair, blue lizards in my shower that measure up to foot long. The home where swamp moccasins rain down from the oak trees, or leap into the air. Where alligators sun themselves on the riverbanks and lemon sharks navigate the knee-deep waters of the ocean, both waiting to rip me to shreds. Where right whales breach clear out of the river’s smooth surface. Where manatees lumber in the crystal clear springs, unaware of how dangerous humans really are. There, back home, are flying cockroaches and toxic eastern lubber grasshoppers. But we live in harmony. We coexist. They belong there.

So do I. I know this because I feel it.

water moccasin

DM

Home(s)

It was a little more than a year ago when I touched Lake Erie for the first time. The next day we returned to Oklahoma with a handful of lake rocks (I grew up near Lake Superior calling them dinosaur eggs) and a sense that I was getting excited about something that might never happen. I wasn’t sure I would ever have the chance to visit Lake Erie again, so I made a big deal about seeing it while we were in Cleveland for Matt’s job interview. There was some sentimentality to that – Lake Erie would be my fourth Great Lake! How could I go back to Oklahoma, and wherever the job hunt landed us from there, having been so close to Erie and doing nothing about it? So I did something about it. I insisted we see Lake Erie, so we did.

Shortly after we moved here, I started thinking to myself: Why not visit them all? I was only one lake away from completing a HOMES checklist. Lake Huron was my first, as a toddler; Lake Michigan came next as we ferried back and forth to visit family in Milwaukee; then Lake Superior, practically an inland ocean; and, finally, Lake Erie. I had to find a way to make it to Lake Ontario.

(Some people are unfamiliar with the HOMES acronym. Each letter represents one of the Great Lakes, making it easier to name them all. Because of my childhood in Upper Michigan, I have always been familiar with HOMES, even when the maps in our social studies class didn’t even include Michigan’s upper peninsula and, therefore, erased Lake Superior’s existence altogether. I always look for this mistake on every map I encounter. Did they forget the UP again? Why is half of Michigan missing from the map? It’s practically a habit by now, forged by years of being part of a population ignored by mapmakers.)

I like it here in Northeast Ohio. No, no, no. I take that back. I love it here. There was a sense of homecoming for me, of returning to a place I’ve been before but not really. I can’t quite give this feeling over to hiraeth, seeing as I never longed for this place. Perhaps there is a different word out there, formed and better understood by a different culture, but this feeling, for me, is more like finding home in a place I never knew I wanted to be. I’ve spent so much of my life in Michigan and Wisconsin, surrounded by these Great Lakes, that it was like returning from a thirty-year trip across the country. These lakes are all connected to each other. Being here is familiar. Being here is like being home.

So when Matt and I began our drive on I-90 to Buffalo, across Pennsylvania and New York, I never felt like we’d really left home. Lake Erie was never far away. In fact, during some stretches of highway, like in Erie, Pennsylvania, or across the New York state line, Lake Erie was right next to us, showing off her shades of blue during the breaks in the rain. We rented a gorgeous historic rowhouse apartment in downtown Buffalo for two nights, and our only plans involved eating authentic Buffalo wings, seeing Niagara Falls, and touching Lake Ontario. Again, I couldn’t stand being so close to my fifth, and final, Great Lake and doing nothing about it. So I did something about it. I insisted we see Lake Ontario, so we did.

At this point you’re probably expecting photographs of Niagara Falls, but no. Niagara Falls was gorgeous. It literally took my breath away. But I am still blown away by the fact that every single Great Lake finds its way into the Niagara River, churning and swirling and frothing before plunging down 170 feet on its way to Lake Ontario.

And here she is…

IMG_20170707_152831

IMG_20170707_153529

IMG_20170707_152757

I think back on my years in Oklahoma, when I was grasping at anything familiar to make it feel like home. I begged that it be temporary, and it was. But even those short four years were made to feel longer by my need to feel at home. I might not have known where exactly I belonged, but I knew then, as I know now, that I didn’t belong there.

This is where I belong…for now. Back in the Great Lakes. Back where my earliest memories were formed. Collecting dinosaur eggs on the beach, staring out at the endless horizon, waiting for icebergs to flow by, crossing my fingers for an aurora sighting, and catching a glimpse of the giant container ships as they maneuver their way from one inland ocean to another. From Lake Ontario to the most northern reaches of Lake Superior.

This is familiar. This is home.

 

The Beginning of Winter

There is a part of me that will always love snow, and it’s obviously a part of me I didn’t even know existed. The first snow we had here at the new house just made the whole place look so different. The entire yard changed into something new. Everything was quiet. The creek was no longer hidden by the dark canopy of trees. In fact, it was the one thing that really seemed to stick out.

First snowfall. Front yard. This place could make me like winter. #neohio #home #creek #snow

IMG_20161120_081759

IMG_20161120_102653

We are cold, no doubt. But it’s not unbearably cold. Yet. There is no wind like the Oklahoma wind, or else our temperatures here in Northeast Ohio would be unbearably cold. But I’m sure that’s coming. All in due time. Blizzards. Lake effect snow. Icebergs on Erie. The snow sticks are out. The neighbors have fled to South Florida. Preparations are in full swing. One afternoon, I counted four snowplows on the road just in the three miles between my house and work. There wasn’t any snow in the forecast, but it’s nice to know they are out there.

Hot tea is a constant. Candles are lit throughout the house. My husband picked up a tiny living tree at the town grocer to decorate for Christmas. It sits atop the wine rack where the blind dog can’t run into it and get lost. She still seems confused sometimes in the new house. I strung white twinkling lights across our stair bannister leading up to the bedrooms. The next day, half of them stopped twinkling. Later, that same half just stopped working altogether. But the half that works is so darn pretty. Our space heater, designed to look like a tiny wood stove, adds ambience to the unfinished living room. I’m getting by so far with my own half-assed version of hygge.

From our front window we watch the squirrels pick through what falls from the bird feeder. I haven’t had a chance to learn a single local wintering bird. Nuthatches? Finches? Orioles? I recognize a cardinal or a blue jay, but those little tiny things that flutter around all over the yard? No clue. The squirrels are gray, although some are black. Probably half of them are black. It’s a dominant trait, the black fur. A few black squirrels were released from a Kent State University lab years and years ago, and their coloring only occurs in certain areas. Like mine! I don’t think I could ever get tired of seeing black squirrels.

We also have a pair of barrel owls who live in our front yard trees. I know there are two because they talk to each other, but I’ve only ever seen one at a time. His name is Owlbert. Whichever one I see at any given time, his name is Owlbert. I don’t know what I would do if I ever saw them both at the same time. And I only have one cool owl name at the moment, so Owlbert it is.

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. 

IMG_20160913_094831

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.

IMG_20160913_094911

IMG_20160913_094935

Untitled

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.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

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.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

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.

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.

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

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.

migratory

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:

Untitled

Untitled

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!)

**********

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.

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.
IMG_2801

An Old Florida/Cracker Florida landscape – Homosassa Springs, Fla.

Untitled

A manatee in Crystal River, Fla.

Untitled

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

Untitled

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

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

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

IMG_2811

River Street at night in Savannah.

Untitled

Johnson Square. Memorials. Live oaks. Bliss.

Untitled

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

IMG_2818

I finally saw my Peabody ducks.

Nostalgia

Sometimes I wonder if I might feel claustrophobic now if I stood among the tall pine trees of North Florida. A year ago this thought would have sent me into a panic, homesick and spun out on nostalgia.  These days, though, I am feeling much more comfortable here in Oklahoma. The wind is barely noticeable except on extremely gusty days or when it’s missing altogether, and we’ve had more earthquakes lately than tornado-producing storms. Now that winter is over (thank goodness), it is so lush and green outside that I have almost forgotten how ugly winter is. Almost.

image

Plans are being made for the house (which is, unfortunately, not the whimsical structure pictured above): a three-panel world map will soon be hung on the wall; evergreen trees and an arbor, possibly covered with jasmine or miniature garden lights, need to put into the ground soon; a backyard deck with lighting on the stairs; adding more beds to the garden.

When I moved here two years ago I wouldn’t take any time away from missing Florida to consider making long-term arrangements and landscaping decisions for my own house in Oklahoma City. Today I spoke out loud about planting asparagus and of turning our backyard into a fruit orchard. Apple trees and Bartlett pear trees. Fig trees. A Japanese maple, perhaps, for a spectacular color show once a year.

*****

Last month we visited with some friends in a neighboring town. On the way to their house I spotted fields of yellow that went on for what seemed like miles. Luckily I have a husband who is willing to pull over onto the side of the road when I ogle the landscape. He also doesn’t mind when I hang out of the passenger door of the van with my camera, standing and stretching for height and perspective, until I’m happy with my shot. I especially get a kick out of  scenery that includes oil rigs and wind turbines, but most of the time Oklahoma’s landscape is still very foreign to me. The canola field is one of my new favorites, though.

13939499504_e92dd569e4_z

Sunset courtesy of Oklahoma. #oklahoma #sunset

*****

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is collecting dust inside one of my book cabinets and has been since last summer. I sometimes wish I could begin reading a book without knowing how many pages are actually involved. Or at least knowing it will be a fantastic novel and every page will have been worth every minute I devoted to it. Yes, I do judge people this same way. It’s probably why I didn’t marry until I was 35. The Goldfinch just feels like such a goddamn commitment and I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of commitment yet.

Relatedly, I’m reading a book about the history of anxiety as told by Scott Stossel, who, as it turns out, is a near-perfect spokesperson for those of us who suffer so intensely on the inside but manage to fool nearly every person we meet. He’s the editor of The Atlantic. You don’t get that kind of job without bullshitting your way through countless social engagements. How many times have I been told that I sound like I have everything “so together”? More times that I can remember. Remarks like that only serve to assure me that I can function fairly well in a world unwilling to acknowledge the quiet ones, the worriers, those of us made anxious by the energy or speed with which others work.

I’m left-handed so I feel like I’ve been playing this kind of role all my life anyway. We always manage to get by, though, sometimes after having worked a little harder, especially because we know ballpoint pens are still made to perform better for right-handed people.

*****

Summer vacation this year will consist of a trip to the Milwaukee area to see my extended family. It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve been there. Jim’s Bakery is gone and so is my uncle’s farm. They were both swallowed up by development and the economy. This makes me sad for a number of reasons, but mostly because I expected these two things to always be there. The last time I visited was shortly after my grandmother died. Two decades later I still expect her to be there, too.

Nostalgia should be classified as a mental illness.