Arctic Scenes

A couple of years ago I read a line from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, that said “Only boring people are bored.” Or something like that. Then Betty Draper said it to her son after suggesting he go bang his head against a wall. Why would she say that? He said he was bored. I’m not sure I totally believe that only boring people are bored, but the saying has certainly stuck with me.

During one of my worst bouts of unexplained jaw pain, I found myself increasingly unable to concentrate on reading. That’s my favorite thing to do – read. I read everything. Magazines. Novels. Essays. Short stories. Historical accounts. Nonfiction tomes. Cookbooks. Shampoo bottles. Brochures for outlet malls. Everything. But it’s difficult to pay attention when your mouth, your jaws, are in constant pain. I had to find an activity to do, something that required much more concentration and a lot less just sitting there. Unable to read, unprepared to bake, unwilling to clean, I became bored.

So I picked up a paintbrush. After my first painting I realized I hadn’t even acknowledged the pain in my jaws. For hours. HOURS. I did it again. It worked again. It worked in the way that I was either able to focus on something other than my misery or I was actually able to relax a bit. It turns out my jaw joints are completely void of any cushioning. My inability to deal with stress and anxiety have taken their toll, but it seems I’ve found a temporary solution in painting.

As a kid, my mother tried to teach me how to crochet. But we are opposite-handed and our teacher-learner dynamic is explosive, at times, so my little kid self probably threw a tantrum at not being able to do it the way I wanted to and promptly refused to try again. (I have since tried again and still find it utterly confusing.) Drawing, sculpting, jewelry-making are all free forms of creativity, all things I preferred to do. Just like painting. Painting without rules keeps me from being in pain and, according to Liz Gilbert and Betty Draper, it also keeps me from being bored, and, subsequently, from being boring.

I used only watercolors up until the beginning of October. That’s when I splurged on a $5 acrylic painter starter kit at Michaels. Aside from being consistently anxious, I’m also consistently frugal. When I agree to dip my toes into the waters of NEW THINGS, I rarely invest a lot of money. Therefore I had to actually talk myself into it. And now I can undoubtedly say I much prefer acrylic painting and I’m considering buying individual tubes of paint (that will very likely cost more than $5 each). A cheap investment that paid off, in my book.

Since early October, I’ve painted three outdoor scenes with acrylics. I’ll happily show you two of them (that third one will never see the light of day…eek!). There is an obvious connection between the two, both of them being arctic in nature. When I painted the Northern lights, I was just learning how to read weather alerts regarding solar storms. Just before this, I had even convinced my husband to drive to the shores of Lake Erie with me to see if the lights would appear on our north coast horizon. Sadly, they didn’t. We had a fun night anyway, and got to experience some Great Lakes nightwatching complete with stars, incoming clouds, and far-off lighthouse beacons.

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And last night, I found myself watching Alaska: The Last Frontier and so was inspired again to try another Arctic scene: this time Baffin Island. A photographer I follow (through her blog and on Instagram) posts some of the most beautiful images on Earth from her polar expeditions. Between her photo of Sunneshine Fjord and the Kilcher’s up-close encounter with a calving glacier, I find myself looking forward to a possible trip far outside of my usual latitudes.

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I’m quite pleased with them both.

So as I finish up my master’s thesis, I will probably be relying on these acrylics to help me come down from the muscle-tensing work that is writing. Hunched over, jaws clenched, writing, thinking, working, trying to find the right order of things with which to please a team of anonymous expert readers who have no idea who I am. This isn’t even a case of “writing for your audience.” They’re complete strangers, which just adds to the anxiety.

Soon, though, it will all be over. By then, winter will be fully upon us here in Cleveland. The lake effect snow, the La Nina weather pattern that threatens our forecast with deeper chills and heavier snow, our fireplace in all its blazing glory. I’m still waiting for those Lake Erie icebergs. I’m still waiting for a solar storm powerful enough to drive the Northern lights down to me. Until then, I will read and paint. Read and paint. Read and paint. And I won’t be bored.

 

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.

September

Two consecutive weekends of being outside? It does a body good. While I can, and often do, complain about my constant and undiagnosable jaw and facial  pain as of late, it seems that being under a tree canopy and/or fishing are great ways to help me forget that I’m hurting. So is the soma prescription – a generous helper of a muscle relaxer that puts me in such a deep sleep that I actually remember my dreams.

An example of a soma-induced dream: Matt and I were in a new house, one that included separate wings, and the kiddo wanted her room to be closer to us. As the two of us contemplated the many uses of Elle’s then vacant two-story bedroom, our Mexican contractor offered me up a gorgeous plate of cauliflower cheddar mash while his two Russian female assistants apologized profusely for being unable to provide me with their favorite crepes, which can only be had in Poland. Seeing as my jaw and ears were screaming from pain prior to falling asleep, I’m pretty sure the cauliflower cheddar mash appeared in my dream only as a reminder to stay on my soft-food diet (aka How Many F***ing Ways Can A Person Prepare Eggs?).

But back to being outside…

It’s finally not 147°F out there. These recent temps in the mid-80s have me pining for Wisconsin once again. Instead, I headed for the trees. A couple of weekends ago I went to Martin Nature Park in northwest Oklahoma City. The birds were out, and so were the deer. I didn’t get a good shot of the one I did see across the creek bed, but I left knowing she was there and my deer-sighting streak is still going strong.

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I emerged from the woods a couple of hours later, drove home to pick up my family, and headed out to a lakeside restaurant where we had dinner. I broke the soft-food diet rule and enjoyed the hell out of some broccoli salad. Later I snacked on two cups on tapioca pudding because, well, I’d learned my lesson. The following day’s meals consisted of scrambled eggs for breakfast, a fried egg for lunch, and egg salad on potato bread for dinner. So, there are at least three ways to prepare eggs while on the soft-food diet…

Saturday morning, after having enjoyed a few decent nights of sleep on the soma, Matt and I woke up at the crack of dawn and headed south with our fishing gear in tow. Lake Thunderbird is just outside of the city of Norman. And it’s beautiful early in the morning. We arrived just in time to catch the fog as it lifted from the water’s surface. Herons, egrets, and ospreys caught their breakfasts and laughed at us as we caught nothing. It didn’t matter, though.

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We saw deer, wild turkeys, a rabbit, and a lot of jumping fish. They were mocking us from a distance as we stood on shore, just begging us to buy a boat – that discussion continues (between Matt and I, not with the fish).

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What I’ve read: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. It involves Antarctica, Seattle, and snobby, rich moms. While it was entirely predictable, it was really fun to read.

What I’m reading: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I started this on my first night on soma and only got to, like, page 7 before I crashed haaaaaard. It’s a historical fiction novel based on true events of the 18th century that include murder and the capital punishment of a woman in Iceland.

What I’m watching: The Killing on Netflix. If anyone else is watching this, let me know. My coworker got me turned on to this series, but he’s only recently finished season 1. I’m well into season 4. I have nobody to talk to about the plots and drama, but my husband does a decent job of showing interest when I start a conversation like this: “Oh my god! Let me tell you about the dead teenage prostitutes!” I need friends.

 

Tree Mail

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A few of my favorite things can be found in the picture above: water (!!!); a blue sky with little puffy clouds; fishing boats and docks; soft, green grass that doesn’t stab your feet with the sad effects of an Oklahoma drought; and blue spruce pines. This is Little Cedar Lake, outside of West Bend, Wisconsin, which, in itself, is the best part of the picture above.

During our vacation to southeastern Wisconsin this summer, I couldn’t get enough of those blue spruce pines. I’d point and exclaim, “There’s another one!” every time we drove past one. My uncle drove us to see his old farmhouse and, lo and behold, an entire section of the property had become a tiny forest of blue spruce pine trees. It turns out my cousin, who has lived at the farmhouse for years now, brought a few of those abandoned trees home a long time ago and stuck them in the ground to see what would happen.

This is what happened:

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Ever since I left Wisconsin I haven’t stopped yammering on about how much I love these trees. I’ve looked for them in local nurseries (Oklahoma City, believe it or not, actually has a few USDA planting zones because the terrain is so varied here), and I’ve looked on Google for information regarding the care and planting of these trees in my particular zone. The chances of a blue spruce surviving this environment – hot, dry, windy – are minimal. Not impossible, but the chances aren’t great. I figured I would just hold out until our next trip to Wisconsin to see them and smell them again.

Then I got a package in the mail yesterday. It was from my aunt and uncle in Wisconsin who have been known to gift members of my family with huge boxes of Wisconsin-made cheese. This usually happens around Christmastime, but I eat Wisconsin cheese any time of the year! Except this package smelled like…pine?

Inside the carefully wrapped package was a tiny blue spruce pine of our very own.

Bruce the blue spruce

I’ve talked with two tree experts at a local nursery, both of whom are wishing me luck. In some parts of the city, these blue spruce pines might make it. In other parts of the city, they don’t stand a chance. It was suggested that I keep Bruce (yes, Bruce the Blue Spruce) in a container until our ground temperatures drop to 60-70 degrees (it’s been in the low 100s this week, if that’s any indication of how long we might be waiting). Then we’ll plant Bruce in the northwest corner or the yard and coddle him like that newborn baby he is.

It’ll be decades before our blue spruce pine is the size of those in the pictures above. We’re realistic, though. Our goal, at least for now, is to keep him alive in the container until late fall/early winter. I’ve already decided he will live on my bedside table in the meantime.

 

Eco-Therapy & Books

There has been a lot of reading and outdoors time going on, often at the same time. The nights are mild; the mosquitoes have returned. I’m not deterred, though. I still like to take a glass of wine out to the back stoop and catch up on some reading.

I’m unable to say what has gotten into me lately. In summers past, I was quite happy to spend an hour outside and say I’d done myself some good with that single hour. Not this year. I don’t mind getting dirty from pulling garden weeds, and I don’t mind getting sweaty from a long walk around the block or even around the zoo. In fact, the kiddo and I spent nearly four hours doing just that this weekend.

All three of us played for hours on an outdoor ropes course downtown with the hopes of ziplining across the Oklahoma River. The skyzip didn’t happen due to wind gusts but I’m pretty sure I would have chickened out anyway. It seems I have a newly developed physiological reaction to heights that I must work on before I step out onto the Willis Tower Skydeck next month (I only made it to the third story of the ropes course – out of eight – before feeling a little queasy).

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We recently attended an outdoor wedding reception at our friends’ new homestead/farm-to-be where there was canoe filled with ice-cold beer and soda, a metal washbin for a firepit (to cook our hot dogs and s’mores, of course), as well as a petting zoo. All the guests parked a few hundred yards from the event which meant we had to find our way back to our cars in the dark. Being that far out in the country gave us all a fantastic view of the stars and a nearly full moon, though, not to mention the spectacular firefly show.

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I have felt so happy lately and I truly believe it’s from being outside so much. It helps to be so blitzed out by the sun and heat of the day that I usually fall into bed blissfully exhausted.

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Between walks around the nearby lakes and city parks (and cutting flowers during my many trips to my garden), I read. Most recently I’ve finished Susannah Kaysen’s Cambridge, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, and Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements. My most favorite was Shipstead’s novel; my least favorite was Oyeyemi’s. Cambridge fell disappointingly in the middle.

I’m reading two books at the moment: Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff. It’s funny how the two of them are so drastically different yet each one serves up a good fix for my Floridana literature itch. Groff lives in Gainesville, Florida, my one-time hometown, the city in which my daughter was born. I miss that place. The tall trees, the afternoon thunderstorms, the summer jasmine scent in the air. Lopez’s book on the Arctic explains in detail why dwarf trees are so prevalent in regions with violent weather and temperature extremes. Wind is one of the greatest weather forces. There is so much wind here in Oklahoma that I now understand why there are so few tall trees. And the way Lopez talks about the Far North, or the way most Alaskans talk about the Far North, for that matter, is what makes me miss the South.

That is how I feel about the South, except I haven’t yet found Arctic Dreams‘ southern equivalent.

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Garden Progress – Week 9

It’s been awhile since I posted about the garden. Three whole weeks! I guess I hadn’t thought much about it since few things have changed. Mainly the squash had become a bully, crowding out the tomatoes and the peppers. The marigolds and eggplants have done little in the way of blooming or growing. The big, leafy squash plants just took over.

I went out to the garden tonight and contemplated pulling a few of those squash plants out. There were seven producing plants (seven!). Being the overthinker that I am, I considered everything that would benefit from removing some of the squash – the eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and marigolds weren’t the only ones living in the dark, literally. The osteospermum (my cinnamon-color African daisies), my borage (which I was told would “explode!” but has barely grown at all), a thyme plant, my striped petunias, and a lemon licorice have all been struggling to get some sunshine. I’ll be honest: I didn’t feel the least bit guilty ripping out four of those squash plants. Now at least the nearby flowers and veggies have a fighting chance.

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The zinnias have been making me the happiest lately. Each morning I walk past the garden and see a new bloom, in a new color! My “Envy” zinnias will probably make me do cartwheels once they show themselves – they’ve been sloooowly catching up with the rest of the zinnia brood. I’ve given up on the pansies and the Icelandic poppies. The Red American Legion poppies, however, are right on target, as are the cosmos. The fun thing about gardening, for me anyway, is that I’ve already forgotten what color cosmos and butterfly weed I chose so…surprise! We’ll find out soon.

Also, I spaced out when I planted the morning glories and never gave them a trellis for climbing. At this point, I’m scrambling to drive into the dirt some sturdy sticks and branches that have fallen off our many trees just to give them some something to grab onto. It seems to be working.

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Before I close this out, I do have a question for you: I recently found a caterpillar eating my peas. Not really the peas, or even the pea pods, but crawling around the tendrils and leaves. It looked like a hornworm – do hornworms go after peas, too? All of my research says the worms or caterpillars that favor peas are pea moths, which are ugly and brown. This guy, for sure, isn’t ugly. I have a strange affinity for hornworms (they remind me of Heimlich from A Bug’s Life), so I didn’t kill the little guy. I simply pulled off a bit of the plant and set him on the ground away from the garden to go to town at it. Any idea what this is?

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May Into June

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The last day of May and the first day of June have conspired to make this weekend one of the best in recent memory.

Saturday included a late-morning trip to the farmer’s market, the local plant nursery, a used bookstore, and a family dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. I got a little tipsy off a delicious drink mixed with elderflower liqueur, which made the unexpected sighting of a hot-air balloon pretty damn exciting. The wispy seeds of the cottonwood trees, supposedly discovered by Meriweather Lewis in 1805 in Missouri, have created “snowdrifts” of a sort, pockets of fluff all over Oklahoma City that have built up to be inches deep in some places. I bring up this part of the Lewis & Clark expedition only because I almost purchased a copy of their journals during my bookstore trip. Ultimately, I passed it up and started reading Susannah Kaysen’s Cambridge instead.

cottonwood seeds, thick like snow!

This morning (Happy June!) I managed to mix the perfect amount of sugar and half & half into my coffee and I even convinced my husband to take a morning walk with me in the woods of a nearby nature park. It smelled like honeysuckle and musk in some places; in other places it smelled like clean dirt and lake water. The sound of traffic was muffled by all the trees. They also served to keep us cool from the sun and humidity, both of which increased throughout the day. Matt and I have decided we should make plans to hike the Appalachian Trail before we die, even if we accomplish it in bits and pieces. This adventure will be much easier to accomplish after we’ve started a new life in the Blue Ridge foothills. I don’t know when that will be but I’m already looking forward to it. I miss being dwarfed by giant trees.

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Being surrounded by fields of blue stem prairie grass, Mexican hats, and Indian blanket feels pretty fantastic. I even got to see my very first prickly pear cactus…in bloom! I was hoping to meet a particular owl who has become a little famous on the park’s Facebook page, but the time of day probably worked against us. On our way out of the park we did get to see a duck swimming along with her tiny brood. We crossed paths with two deer and even spotted a little fawn hiding in the tallgrass.

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a fawn!

And all of this before noon…but we’re home now after a fantastic lunch at a lakeside restaurant and I’m off to read more of Cambridge. Happy weekending!

 

Dreaming of a season that isn’t winter

When I sat down to write yesterday’s post nothing was out of the ordinary. There had been a biting wind chill earlier in the morning when I drove the kiddo to school, and Matt and I had covered the garden beds with a large tarp the night before to protect the greenbabies from frost, but besides that there was nothing unusual. I should know better than to keep asking, “What is considered unusual weather in Oklahoma?” because the answer to that stupid question is this: consistency. Consistent weather is what’s considered unusual weather in Oklahoma.

It was nearly 90* on Saturday. On Sunday the temperatures dipped a little below 80*, and we got a trickle of hail (dime-sized, perhaps) in the late afternoon. Yet when I looked out the window yesterday morning I could barely see through the swirling mass of fat, heavy snowflakes. Because SURPRISE! (Here’s a crappy video I took just when it was starting to wind down a bit.) Even the meteorologists were caught off-guard.

Naturally, I became angry about the whole thing. It’s spring. It’s the middle of April, for cryin’ out loud! When this happens I tend to mentally transport myself back to Florida. My mother has described to me how fragrant the tangerine tree blossoms are right now. Her geraniums are blooming, too.

beautiful day to spend some time at the beach

see the dark spot on the right? Horseshoe crab, little one!

surf and shells

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This is also the time of year when the ocean waters warm up enough to release rehabbed sea turtles back into the wild. I attended one of these releases on Amelia Island a couple of Aprils ago. It was chilly enough to wear a sweater – early morning breezes from the ocean and all – but what an experience! And it didn’t snow.

Terra-Tiger!

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If you live in the coastal Georgia/North Florida area, or plan to visit, you really should check in with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to find out if any sea turtle releases are scheduled soon. I lived in Florida for 16 years and seeing Terra-Tiger, a juvenile green sea turtle, go home was one of the most incredible things I ever did.

Last month I found a book at the Tulsa Aquarium about sea turtles called Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur. I plan to read it when the weather is more conducive to pretending I’m at the beach. Or when I can actually say that it didn’t just snow yesterday.

Spring is Here! (Part II)

The title of this post should really be “Wanna know how lazy I am?”.

In the fall of 2012, my pecan tree dropped a boatload of nuts. I crabwalked for hours one afternoon to pick up as many pecans  as possible. My mother and I had worked out a trade: She would send me tangerines and valencia oranges from her citrus trees in North Florida in exchange for my pecans. I ended up shipping about three gallon-sized bags to her. The rest of the pecans I picked up that season remained in a basket, waiting for me to shell them and bake a few pies.

I never did.

But that’s not what makes me lazy.

What makes me lazy is that the basket of pecans is still out there, a year and a half later, just sitting on the back porch. The pecans are spoiled – they have been for quite some time – so there has been absolutely no use in keeping them around.

The other day, however, I noticed some twigs and dry brush inside the pecan basket. Upon further inspection I discovered that it’s a bird’s nest! WITH BABIES! Or soon to be babies…

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I am clueless when it comes to identifying these pesky house birds, but my best guess (after very little research – again, lazy) tells me that these are the eggs of a house sparrow. Starlings and house sparrows continue to show up as very different birds when I turn to the Google gods for answers, I always thought they were the same thing. The descriptions of the eggs, though, tells me I’m wrong.

Schnitzel, our little foster fledgling from last year, was a starling. So was Mr. Grumpyfeathers. I have no experience with sparrows. We’ve always assumed those two starlings fell out of their nests, which were precariously located inside the sloping eaves of our front porch. These little sparrow babies already have a leg up in the world since they’re getting their start in life inside a basket. If we happen to find any of them flopping around on our back steps, we’ll know for certain their mama tossed them out.

I don’t put it past these birds to work that hard, either. They can be quite vicious. Have you ever watched an adult bird drag another adult bird from its nest…by its face?!

I have.

 

Reveling with the Fishes

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Bull sharks at the Oklahoma Aquarium. I bet they miss the ocean, too.

In a roundabout way, and hardly as dramatic as I may make it sound right now, I kind of lost my marbles a few weekends ago. Utter loneliness, boredom, feelings of uselessness, and cabin fever have all taken their toll on me. So badly, in fact, that I demanded my husband find a job somewhere near the coast and move us all to an ocean town immediately. Instead, he suggested we take a weekend trip to Tulsa.

It worked, guys. It totally worked. And now I’m calm.

While I was genuinely having a good time in Tulsa touring a retired American Airlines jet and eating Scotch eggs (not simultaneously), I wasn’t aware that any particular feelings were missing. As someone born with a black cloud over my head, I immerse myself in those situations fully, in those moments when I’m happy enough. I feel like if I ask for anything more I’ll be branded as boring, selfish, or, quite frankly, undeserving.

Oh, it’s such crap, I know. But that’s sometimes just how my mind works.

And then it hit me the following day, that moment when things went from happy enough to…well, I don’t know what you call it, but the feeling is pretty fantastic.

It’s funny how our sense of smell can lighten our mood when it catches just the right scent. In the summertime, it’s the smell of charcoal grills and sunscreen. In the winter, it’s pine trees and maple syrup. The right scent for me, for just this weekend, happened to be stagnant aquarium water, but with equal parts fishiness and salt (it’s really not as disgusting as it sounds). A precise measurement, if you ask me.

On Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing next to a turtle exhibit, dipping my nose down closer to the surface and inhaling deeply. A poorly designed replica of a salt water marsh, complete with a fake egret, actually sent my heart racing. The puffer fish, the parrot fish, and even my Resting Bitch Face broke into a smile.

All those neurons that occasionally shoot off messages of happiness around my brain? They were pinging like crazy.

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A smiling puffer fish

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A smiling parrot fish

Note to self on how to endure future winters:

  • Vitamin D
  • SAD lamp
  • acquire tangerines from parents’ backyard tree
  • coconut scented hot tub water
  • visit an aquarium
  • close eyes and listen to this