Swimming Solo

I am, at last, an almost-nomad. I have been on the road since August. Not exclusively. I’ve had some much, much-needed layovers here and there; Kauai, Malibu, Rancho Palos Verdes, New York, for example. Not too shabby real estate, I’d say. But I’ve been picking up, moving, exploring, planning the next adventure for more days than I ever done in my entire life.

I am literally living the dream I’ve been dreaming about for the last decade.

For the first time, the Sunday afternoon my family departed after our Wild and Zany Thanksgiving Camping Adventure 2022 concluded, I felt profoundly lonely. When Monet and I went for a walk, I had this compelling urge to jump in the van and follow my beloved son and grandsons. I just wanted to wrap myself in their love and goofiness. I wanted to protect them and be there for them with a plate of chewy chocolate cookies and milk. What kind of grandma was I for wanting to “discover my path” on the road?

For the first time, I questioned this overwhelming longing to travel and just wanted to pull the covers over my head, sip a hot toddy, and mentally check out. 

Little did I know, the seas were about to get stormy. 

Plan B Disappointment: The little Cambria cottage I hoped to rent, envisioned myself nestling in during the dank, grey weather, just wasn’t a good fit. It was less than 400 square feet, and really funky—not in a good way. I told the property manager that I wanted it, took the application, then realized if I stayed there, I might get really depressed. It just wouldn’t replicate the Cambria experience I was hoping to try-out. In fact, I realized, the experience of living in the ultra tiny storage unit, under the dark canopy of trees, would drive me away from my decades-long dream of one day re-locating to the coastal community.

What I know for sure about myself is that I love being a nomad for blocks of time. Not forever. In truth, I am a nester. An empty nester–almost. I have my Monet, my buddy, my love, my last, cherished, responsibility. My little cattle dog Katie found on the internet when our white lab. Bailey, who tragically died at 1.5 years after being poisoned by the ingredients in Gromulch, by Kellogg. Our hearts were broken. A few weeks after Bailey died, Katie and I looked at each other and simultaneously knew, “Our hearts need to love again.” Thus, our darling Monet became a freckled-faced member of the tribe. 

So, in truth, I’m not alone. My buddy and I have each other.

The day of Ryan and my grandson’s departure, I allowed myself to “feel the feelings” and explore what the sense of loss really meant. I am not a drifter. I am anchored, solid. A true mother hen wanting to protect her baby chicks. Why, I wondered before drifting off to sleep, did I need to swim solo?

It was a fretful night and I slept a couple of hours, at most. When I woke up the next day, I checked the time, 7 a.m., and read a text from my eldest daughter: “Ryan was in a car accident.”

With no cell reception at the campground, I did my best to calm myself down before bolting out of the van to find a place where I could get phone service. As Monet and I walked closer to the beach, I prayed, “Please Lord, let it not be serious.” All the while, I was imagining the worse. Ryan in the hospital, the grandkids seriously injured. I was about to lose my mind. 

Recently, I’ve been having nightmares. I dreamt that Monet died and I wasn’t there for her. I imagined an earthquake destroying everything along the California coast. 

“Please God, let everyone be OK.” 

Thankfully, my prayers were answered: my grandson had back and neck pain, a whiplash, as did my son. The car was totaled. All the bikes in the back of the car were demolished, but probably saved them. All the camping equipment was crushed or thrown out of the window in the back. The accident on the 405 Freeway was bad, but the Lord definitely had His arms wrapped around them. Not everyone, I told my shaken son, had your outcome. Not everyone made it home.

Thank you, God, thank you God, thank you God.

A chance to re-think, re-commit, start anew with abundant gratitude for simple things, like re-stocking the cooler, tidying-up the camper, getting new windshield wipers and auxiliary battery and renew the UTI medicine for Monet, which I did later that day. With a smile on my face—It must be fate!—the Cambria vet technician said, “You’re in luck! We have one opening this afternoon.” Monet had been peeing a lot, so I grabbed the opening and we went to our beach for a run (Monet) and hike (Me). I figured Monet probably had a UTI infection that antibiotics would clear up in a week.

When we returned for the 3:30 p.m. appointment, Dr. Suzy took Monet inside to examine her, but when she came back to the van, she said, “I have some bad news.” She suspected Monet might have more going-on than a treatable UTI; she suggested taking an X-ray and further blood work. The initial results weren’t good: the vet said it looked like she had three masses, one near her bladder, the other in her tummy, and a small mass in her lungs. She suspected they were cancerous, but needed further lab work to verify. 

A few days later, her suspicions were confirmed. Treatment options were limited. One medicine, similar to chemo, would make her feel sick and lethargic. And, the vet said, although it is possible the meds might shrink the tumors, it is unlikely.

“How long does she have to live?” I asked, barely able to speak.  

“Maybe two months.”

It is hard to believe. Except for needing to urinate frequently, here in Cambria, Monet is her old, prancing, exploring, self. She runs like a pup on the beach, chasing birds, fetching sticks. Her happy place. And mine too. 

Even with three tumors inside her, my girl has fun and enjoys the moment with innocence and grace.

It seems to always come down to the same lesson: Don’t project ahead. Be present. 

Monet, my teacher, is showing me how to live life. Take the leash off. Chase birds. Jump into the freezing ocean. Pee wherever you damn well like (OK, maybe just dogs). Eat barnacles from the rocks, just because they are tasty. And love. Big. Don’t hold back.

My buddy and I are hitting the road before the rain starts falling again. We’re going to enjoy the journey, sing songs, eat snacks in the van, take a nap, and tonight we’ll cuddle up under the stars and purr words of love. 

Soon enough, we’ll both be on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. But not today. God willing, not today. 

The Weather Outside is Frightful for This California Gal

You know you are a REAL writer when…

You are observing your gifted daughter teaching her Fourth-Grade students a stone’s throw from the Hudson River and the only thing you can think of, besides how so damn proud you are of her and where did this kindness, this brilliance, this clarity, come from? is, “I need to leave, find a quiet place, and chronicle this moment.”

My daughter’s lively students, overjoyed at the opportunity to learn through game-playing, consists of 25 nine and ten-year-olds, among them, quiet Michael (not his real name) who is deaf, and confident with his mathematical tallying skills;  Anna, a shiny pink-jacketed, braided girl who goes out of her way to help other students be successful. Then there’s competitive Sam who believes in rules as long as he’s in charge of making, and breaking, them. George, tall and withdrawn, stands on the outside of every group he joins, does his soft-spoken best to get his ideas heard, but is repeatedly snubbed. Nathan, reminds me of one of my grandsons; he’s happy, accommodating to others, and patiently waits his turn. 

My daughter’s class is a microcosm of every family, every classroom, in the past, present and future; each person vying to find a safe place where they can grow and learn and be themselves. My daughter, and her talented teaching partner, provide such a wonderous spaceship in the midst of Manhattan, a brisk walk away from the ice-skating rink in Central Park, where I’m sitting right now with a cup of passable coffee, wearing a lightweight puffer jacket, in 41 degree-cold. 

It’s windy, burr chilly.  Elton John/Brittney Spear’s remix, “Hold Me Closer (Tiny Dancer)”, blasts across the rink speakers, as head-nodding tourists line the rail, snapping iconic NYC photos that never ever look or feel as good as the real deal. Late Fall leaves drift like snowflakes, muffling the clip clop, clip clop of the $140 VIP horse-drawn carriage tour. And here I sit, feeling, seeing, hearing conversations from people from all over the world, one talking to a friend about the place he proposed to a woman who declined his proposal, another British couple, red-faced, as they cozy-up and share funny photos of their preschoolers; “He looks like a Dashound!” the woman laughs. “No, a vampire,” her partner counters, pointing to the screen.

Seated across from me, sits a table of talkative, chain-smoking, buzz cut, conventioners. Next to them, is a wheelchair-bound elderly mother and her daughter, pausing with a hot drink before trekking back to the pathway. 

You know you’re a writer when you have so many sights to see, places to absorb in NYC, but the first and foremost thing you need to do is sit at a very cold green metal picnic table, plant yourself amongst regulars and tourists alike, and set aside an hour to understand where you are, this placeyouthem—and what it all means and what we can all become if we revert to being students, like the kids in Katie’s class: Writers. Readers. Mathematicians. Scientists. Artists. Musicians. Chefs. Leaders. Caregivers. Inventors. Builders. Farmers. Athletes. Healers. Discovering our passion. Discovering our destiny, the seeds of which were planted, I believe, in the womb. 

How could I have not been a writer? Middle child, the one with an imagination, the one misunderstood, the one with compassion for others, the one who dabbled, tried her best, took chances that occasionally worked out, the one who craved acknowledgement, but valued being alone on a freezing afternoon in Central Park so she could figure stuff out.

Did I mention it was cold? That my hands are cracked, almost frost-bitten, but still I sit here with my lukewarm coffee and write?

Then, me thinks: If everyone was a writer, the world would be a better place. We would notice the overwrought mama with two wild toddlers, maybe be less judgmental when they have a tantrum and throw down a cup of hot cocoa. We would observe the couple to my left, grimaced faced, gazing past the Essex House into the impending rain clouds. We would smile at the balding, wheelchaired-grandma, perhaps admiring her strength at being here on this ridiculously cold afternoon. 

Cold. 

It’s cold

Yet the street artist sketches and the violinist plays Mozart beneath the bridge and the runners run and the cyclists’ bike and the writer finds a way to get her fingers moving so she can greet the apparently fake Buddhist Monk when he approaches her with a neon green business card that reads, “I’m deaf. Please help.” So, I do, against my daughter’s warnings about handing out money to strangers. Clearly a tourist. Always a sap. Oh, Mom, she would say. 

“For things like love and giving?” I would think.  But she’s right. She’s almost always right that daughter of mine. 

Two more days. Two more days to love up my grandbabies, one of whom is turning a momentous year-old on Sunday, and let my daughter know how proud I am of her, for the kind of mother she is, wife, teacher, and daughter. She’s a New York tough cookie, this daughter of mine. She won’t put up with B.S. 

Strong. Wise. Courageous. Supportive. And beautiful. How did I get so lucky to have a daughter like her? 

While my fingers are still working, I just want to say how blessed I feel, how grateful I am, to wander alone in NYC, to kinda know where I am, and realize that even if I get lost, I can get found. In the cold. In the heat. In the desert. In the Eastern Sierras. Along the Central Coast and up in Oregon. It’s been a heck of the last six months, from selling my home, being retired from teaching for a year, to traveling, visiting family, and rolling into the holidays with a backpack on my back and my Eurovan loaded with enough hot cocoa to feed my grandsons three times a day for a week, which I will need to do when I return to California, jump in Luna Bella Blu and head to the Central Coast for our annual Thanksgiving Camping Adventure.

Another next. But for now, I’m in the now. 

That’s why I write, to freeze into the porous soil these glistening jewels, these first “mama” coos, and Art With Grandma moments that make my life especially sweet and crazy and surely blessed.  

Why Wait for New Year’s Eve?

New York is hot. Hotter than The Southern California I left two days ago. I’m in short sleeves, a skirt, sitting in the sun on my daughter and son-in-law’s Forest Hills balcony, relishing the 76 temps and bone-warming rays. At this point, I did the reverse packing of what I did last year when I failed to tuck away enough warm clothes; this year, too many jackets and long sleeve shirts. But, as my marathon-finishing daughter reminded me, the weather can change in a New York minute. 

I wanted to think about—write about-–inspiration. 

“I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.”  Florence Nightingale

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”  Babe Ruth

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover.”  Mark Twain

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

“You can do more than you think you can.” Katie Kwok, before, during and after training, and completing the NYC 26.2 Marathon

Yesterday, my entire being was filled with a helium balloon inflated with love, trepidation, excitement and inspiration as I watched my daughter run the November 6, 2022 Marathon that carved into New York’s Five Boroughs. Katie, who attended last year’s Marathon while nine months pregnant, announced that she would join her husband and run next year. 

“Sure, Katie, sure,” I said to myself, hoping, as a protective mother, she’d get that silly idea out of her head. I mean, she needed a year to recuperate from birthing her son, and daughter in Spring 2020, and, since she had to go back to work as a full-time, public school teacher, I figured she wouldn’t have time to train. Not with two kids and a demanding job.

Clearly, I don’t know my youngest daughter very well.

Though she be but little, she is fierce. 

Katie found a way to train—after school, before getting home where she gives nothing less than 100% of herself to the kids. Katie was driven, prioritizing her health. It was hard. (Understatement of the year.) The weather was cold and hot and most nights, pitch dark. After a long day teaching fourth-graders, running was the last thing she wanted to do. Netflix, a bag of chips and her cozy couch sounded like a lot more fun. Yet, somehow, I don’t know how, she pushed herself: She did the hard thing even though she didn’t want to. 

Day by day, week by week, month by month, until she completed nine races of various lengths and a couple of weeks ago, built herself up to running 20 miles. 

“You can do it Mom,” she told me during our weekly phone chat. “It’s all in your head.”

Not so sure my orthopedic doctor would agree. 

But seeing her at the Marathon yesterday, cheering for her and all the runners like it was the last 10 seconds before the New Year’s Eve Times Square ball dropped, made me want to find a physical challenge that makes sense to me. Maybe it’s penning-in a 2-mile walk on my calendar three days a week, then upping it gradually. Hiking has been on my To-Do List forever. Always, I have an excuse. Getting off my butt is so, so, so damn contrary to what I’d rather be doing, which is, which is, which is …

No, there are no excuses except excuses.

Today, I walked almost a mile. Tomorrow, I’ll push it to a mile. I’ll take one of the kids to the park, circle around the neighborhood, look around at the Forest Hills neighborhood, feel the sun, listen to the cheers of the soccer kids and their families and try to saturate myself in opportunity. 

Come on, Janet, this is crazy. If not now, when?

The stakes are high. I have to start caring for and about myself. I am ridiculously healthy for all the abuse I’ve given my body. I can move my legs, arms, walk, even jog a bit. Whoop! Whoop! Not everyone can. I met an athlete, Jenna, on my last camping trip. She is paralyzed from the waist down. Eight years ago, a driver hit her while she was cycling. But that didn’t stop her. Now she arm-cycles 85 miles a day as she prepares for a European cycling competition. 

Arm-cycling is quadruple times harder than traditional pedaling, she said, allowing me to see her rock-hard biceps. 

“How do you do it?” I asked.

“It’s in my head,” she said, tapping her temple. 

“After the accident, you could have given up. What pushed you?” I asked.

“I’ve always been like this. If I got an ‘A’ on an essay at school, I told myself, ‘You can do better,’ and worked harder until I earned an A+.”

By the way, she hates to be called “inspirational”: “I didn’t sign up for that. I’m just doing my thing.” 

I get it. It’s hard enough living life to also have the responsibility of being a poster child for positivity. 

But I can’t help but wonder, is the drive to excel inherited, part of one’s DNA, or observed and copied?

Do I have, within me, any trace of compulsivity, grit, pure drive?

Yes, in some areas of my life, I do. When it comes to creating, cooking, celebrating. But these traits never extended to my athletic experiences; of course, I know why: I was bruised with some deep-cut comments that wounded my soul. I never felt I could measure up, be as good as so-in-so, so I quit, grew fat and jolly, trying to divert attention from my lack of confidence.

What could have helped, what I craved, was an atta’ girl from a supporter, sort of like the person I tried to be while standing at 96th Street and First, applauding passing marathoners, clapping and shouting, You can do this!” as I waved my green neon sign, which read, “We are all sooooooo damn proud of you.”

As far as I could tell, there were no fashion models present, no Tic Tock, well-lit, Photoshop posers running 26.2 miles; just sweaty, exhausted, acutely focused men, women and children exuding a palpable grit that could NOT be faked.

My daughter, who ran for six grueling hours, and her peer runners who overcame their own personal challenges before and during the marathon, are a reminder that no matter one’s shape or size, we can get up, move and reset our lives. One step at a time.

This time next year, I intend to shed 25 more pounds (I lost 40 last year). I’m going to get moving every day, walking, stretching, developing a physical Action Plan. Put myself on top of the priority list. My New Year’s Eve Resolution starts today. You heard it first. Hold me to it.

I’d love to hear about your goals, suggestions, and challenges? I’ll be your atta’ girl or guy. Let’s inspire each other!

But now, I Feel Different

I’m relaxing in front of my Big Red propane campfire, steaming cup of Mt. Whitney French roast organic coffee at my side, Winnie the Pooh slippers warming my normally never-cold feet on this gorgeous last full day of my October Solo Camping Adventure. The sun is drying the ocean dew that dampens the fading prayer flags and glistens the thorny berry vines surrounding Site 64; Monet has been fed, walked and is taking her morning nap, snoring, I believe. 

Yesterday, my favorite campsite became available, so I moved here and I’m so glad I did; it’s the best spot in the entire campground as it has depth, a variety of trees and bushes surrounding me, creating a sense of privacy and wonder. 

I know it may sound selfish, and maybe even a bit ungrateful to those of you with busy careers and children, but I never want to leave here. I’ve been camping for 21 days, yet I’m already feeling sad at the thought that today is my last full day. I don’t want to move from this great site, yet I want to visit my favorite places in the area—Monet’s running beach, my writing cliff, restaurants in town, the wineries. I don’t know what it is about this trip or this phase of my life, but I crave quietude and time to reflect. Getting in the van, driving, is an invasion, an interruption of reading, writing and art time. I don’t know, but it feels like I’m on the cusp of figuring something out, something deep and important, and then I pull away, distract myself with scenery, with conversation or some other kind of horsing-around activity. 

Keeping busy. Keeping active. Keep moving has been my life’s theme. 

But now, I feel different. 

I was talking to my lifelong buddy, Julie, yesterday. We were sitting on her deck, under a beautiful gazebo, relaxing on her new patio furniture, feeling grateful for our more than 50-year friendship. Just hanging out. Two girls with their chilled margaritas enjoying time together, catching up, sharing secrets, laughing about our intriguing, new reality as official Senior Citizens; aches and a few pains and an honesty about life’s unpredictability, things we wish we’d known then, and this truly blessed, unconditional love we have for each another. 

Julie has always been sensible and wise, grounded in God’s abiding love. Me, I was the excitable, flighty one with a heart that’s more stupid than smart. I always looked up to Julie, still do. Her life has turned out just the way she wanted it to. Not a lot of people can say that. Hanging out with Julie, even if it’s just for a couple of hours every couple of months, makes me feel like all is well in the world: my forever-and-a-day buddy. A person I can always be myself with. She knows all of my flaws. And still loves me. And vice versa, except in my eyes she has no flaws. She’s perfect. My perfect friend. 

Time passes. But our friendship is still giggly and girlish. We’re the same people we’ve always been, only with a lot more Girl Scout badges on our sashes.  

Girl Scouts is how we got to know each other. We lived in different blocks of Paulina Avenue, went to the same school, Beryl Heights Elementary. I don’t know about Julie, but Girl Scouts was a way for me to learn about how to survive in the wilderness, go camping, learn to tie knots, and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, our experience was nothing of the sort. Yes, we got our working-class parents to buy those aluminum, highly burnable, mess kits, we worked on the Girl Scout manual trying to earn badges, but Troop 91 was lame. We camped in our Troop leader’s tiny living room a couple of blocks away from Paulina. I think Julie and I mutually understood, without sharing our disappointment, that our Troop lacked leadership. Perhaps the experience planted the seeds of our future involvement in Student Council and various high school clubs. For me, Girl Scouts  was so unfulfilling, but it whet my appetite about Nature and camping, which I wasn’t able to pursue until my junior year of college when I ended up getting married on a Big Sur camping trip.

I feel a eureka moment coming on … 

Perhaps, she says in her Freudian, rub the goatee—unfortunately—voice, this phase of your life is about dipping your toes into the icy, but tolerable creek you have yet to fully submerge yourself into?   

Drench yourself, my dear, sit in the caldron as long as you need to, until you get (even more) wrinkly. Then, you can say, you’re done. 

Jolting up on the fainting couch, she (me) responds: That is why I love soaking in a bathtub with candles and bubbles and spa music and a glass of wine and flowers and plants on the window sill! Saturation. Stillness. To know, what I know. To be best friends for a half a century. To realize what I need to realize so I can wrap myself in a warm Turkish towel and feel connected to the trees and the birds and the stars and all of the doors and windows that have ever been opened or shut to me until I can land and be wherever I need to be for as long as destiny permits. 

At long last, the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together. 

By the Night of the Silvery Harvest Moon

Living my dream. Really. Truly. Like I have died and gone to heaven. In heaven. Me. Camping at a beautiful, gorgeous winery in San Miguel, CA, Four Sisters Winery, https://www.foursistersranch.com/owned by Serena and Michael, former doctors from Southern California who decided to switch it up. They have two-and-a-half acres of grapes behind their home and the winery they rent out for special events, including weddings, which is occurring tomorrow. They are partners with Harvest Hosts, https://harvesthosts.com/a truly ingenious collaboration between small farmers and wineries and other unique businesses across the Nation. This amazing resource connects like-minded campers, like me, with small business owners who are passionate about their respective projects and are looking for unique ways to market their products and services. 

My dream has always been to stay at a winery. Today, tonight, I am living the dream as I solo camp, with my pup, of course, in the winery, just about 12 feet from the vines. I get to feel the air, smell the dirt and crisping-up-just-after-harvest leaves, talk to the owners, enjoy delicious wines, and feel the peace of living this life I have wondered about. 

It is twilight right now and the hum of the cooling system, or something wine-related, is doing its work. The birds are catching tiny flies, and the sunset is haloing the gentle mountains strutting the sea. The vineyard is empty, but soon, Michael shared, I might see wild boar and coyotes hunting for rodents and rabbit. “Keep your eye on your dog,” he cautioned. 

It is vast and now that the winery mechanism is turned off, quiet, like the solitude of a silent movie theater in which you are the only theater-goer. The viewing arena is large and dark and colorful and about to flash with coming attractions. The sunset is brushed with streaks of amber. A few minutes ago, it was pale peach. The frogs or birds or something is high-pitch tweeting. Behind me, someone just lifted a door to bring something out of the winery. There’s a light on. It’s harvest season and there’s still work to do at this small and stunning winery. 

Now the sunset is streaked raspberry sherbet and I am here in the almost-dark, drinking the rest of my glass of chardonnay, which doesn’t seem right because now it’s chilly enough for me to wear a coat on top of my tie-dyed pajamas and I rightly should be drinking a hot toddy. I’m in my PJ’s outside in the vineyard, in my slippers, about to take a snooze in my cozy VW camper van. It is a dream, something I’d see in a movie and say, “I wish that was me,” but it is me and I’m alone trying to explain what it’s like to step into a dream.

It is cinematic. Wide angle lenses aren’t wide enough to capture this 3-D experience. Cool ankles. Warm knitted cap head. Cheesecake core wrapped in my puffy blue Patagonia coat. Glowing. It’s actually glowing this radiating sunset that just keeps getting more extraordinary. Like my life. At age 66.

And then, breaking the absolute enjoying-in-the-moment glory, I am reminded of yesterday’s “The Phone Call”:

A person, who will remain nameless, phoned, out of the blue, while I was enjoying Life with a capital L. Just having my second cup of coffee, about to plan my day, savor my last 24 hours in the Eastern Sierras, and this unnamed person smeared a lot of animal feces on me (metaphorically). It was unexpected. It was unkind. It felt like I was hit in the back of the head with a 2 x 4. Honestly, despite my newly acquired enlightenment, it kind’a ruined my day. I couldn’t sleep all that night. Tossing and turning. It really royally annoyed me off that The Phone Call person decided to regurgitate on me while I was in the midst of my healing sojourn.

I lost a day and a night, thanks to The Phone Call person

Still, sitting here in the Big Top Circus Sky of amazingness, The Phone Call is still occupying my thoughts.

Unwanted, yet The Phone Call pushed me to figure things out I didn’t think I still needed to figure out: I need to stop giving up my time/life trying to change/fix/heal/transform/etc/other people. I can’t change the past. I can’t erase what people think of me, whether they like me or not, what I did or didn’t do. But I can put my foot down and stop allowing certain individuals to blame me for their lives. We all did/do our best. We all screw up. We all do a great job every now and then. I wish I could have a do-over, wish I could take back, wish I had the perspective I have now. But that’s not the way it works. Hopefully, we grow, we get better, we are self-reflective, apologetic when need be, and transform our imperfections into better versions of ourselves.

As I sit here beneath the stars, listening to the songs of a coyote in the distance, and the unexpected jolt of a winery worker doing his job, I realize how important it is for me to drop the sandbag weights that have burdened me throughout my life, the would ofs, should ofs, could ofs

While it may not mean anything to The Phone Call person, I can say that God knows I have done my absolute best  to navigate life’s complications. Just like everyone I know. Most of us mean no malice. But, we are flawed, we are imperfect. 

Like the folks I’ve been meeting on my travels, like the two winemakers I spent several hours chatting with; they both have completely different life experiences than me, different political philosophies. One admitted he only watches TV news that agrees with his point of view. Another said he was too busy working me to spend with his daughters. Both gents were being honest, self-reflective. 

Breathe Janet, breathe.

Here, beneath the pinprick sky, it feels good to release all the negativity and focus on evolution, growth and love. 

This place, the place of my dreams. Nothing, not even The Phone Call person holding so much venom toward me, can rid me of the love and joy I feel. Forgive them for they know not what they do. These profound, last words expressed by Jesus inspire and console me. If He could, so can I. 

Turns out the Great American October Solo Road Trip isn’t just about cool landscapes and scenic campgrounds. This precious time gives me space to think, ponder, embrace and shed. Alone. With God. On this Friday night, writing to the crackling grape leaves, the hooting owl, and the crescent moon cresting above the jagged horizon. 

The Gift

Like opening the fridge door. Like popping a balloon full of amber confetti. Like being immersed in a painting by Claude Monet. Like being in a movie about a woman whose heart is finally open to a life she once only dreamed of. 

Cinnamon me. 

I will do my very best to try to explain where I am, why I’m here and what is happening to me. It starts a long, long time ago, when I was a little girl playing in the backyard at Spreckles Lane. She was an imaginative little girl who could turn a magnolia tree leaf into Robinson Crusoe’s ship, a piece of abandoned tissue paper and string into a makeshift dress for her pen-freckled, frizzy-haired peewee doll. Croaking toads were characters in her make-believe world, as was her Calico cat, Penny, and lighthouse fountain her father made out of PV stone. She was bronze and pigtailed, high foreheaded, chubby-bellied, and longed to be everyone’s amigo. She was fun and danceable, liked to draw, read and tell stories until she got to an age where she could write her own. Her adoring father was her sidekick and enchanted his little girl with bedtime stories threaded with bits and pieces of her imagination. He was always like that, incorporating his daughter’s story into his, giving her validation and a golden key that she would cherish for the rest of her days.

That brings me to this moment, more than six decades later, more than a dozen years after her beloved dad died, sitting on a leaf-carpeted porch next to a leaping creek, doing what she’s always done–write. Only this time, it’s different. 

This time, the little girl has a car and can drive and cook food and go out to eat, if she feels like it, and stay up really late binging on movies (when she has reception) and read an entire book in day, or drink a wee glass of wine in the afternoon or take a nap (which she has yet to do) or camp 10 days straight in the beautiful Sierras or leave when a Fall storm threatens rain and snow on the weekend or reserve not one, but THREE nights at the cutest little cabin resort off the 395 outside of Bridgeport, CA. Here, at the Virginia Creek Settlement https://virginiacreeksettlement.net/, she has a porch and a hot shower and a comfy bed and internet reception and her own food to cook–a big pot of veggie chili for the chilly nights–and can order from an on-site diner the best damn cheese pizza in the Sierras and hang out near the firepit and eat so’mores, just she and her devoted pal, Monet, the spotted blue healer. Here, she can imagine The Next Chapter without judgment or interference from well-indended folk. Here, she can see herself doing everything she loves—reading, writing, creating art, listening to music, absorbing the stillness and variety of Nature. Here, there are no expectations other than to let Nature do her job.

This grownup woman/girl is so happy, so content, so in-the-moment, so grateful in a way she hasn’t felt for years. Giddy to feel the translucent leaves shower her in unexpected wind spurts as if she is Ginger Rogers in “Singing in the Rain”.  Giddy to imagine Paiute warriors standing above the painted granite cliff surveying the land and strangers like me, wondering, “Are you here to appreciate or raid?” 

I am here, honorable people, to absorb, reflect and to remember the changing of the seasons, the contentment in Miguel’s face as we share a moment of gratitude along the creekside, on this fine transitional day, before he bids adieu, getting back to his handyman work, and I get back to noticing.

Yesterday, it was emotional leaving the Twin Lakes Campground, saying goodbye to Terrie the camp host, and my beautiful campsite. To land here, however, is an equal blessing. An indoor respite where I can hang my hat—literally—for a few days, settling in, before it’s time to move on. I simply don’t have enough words to express how perfect this retreat is for me, how many thoughtful accommodations Jimmy and Brinn, the proprietors of Virginia Creek Settlement, have thought of for us guests. Rustic, clean and comfortable.

Gratitude.

If the only prayer you say at the end of the day is thank you, that is enough. Thank you means you listened, you noticed all of the tiny miracles that make up a day—your day. The Gift.   

When Place is Your Teacher

If you’ve been following my blog for a bit, you’ve probably observed that I get tied-up in knots; I go round and around, jump as if someone’s pushing me, and when I finally land, the proverbial parachute cords have lassoed my legs paralyzing my ability, and desire, to move forward. 

I don’t know if I’m alone in this quagmire called change.  I definitely didn’t follow the Hollywood film version of a dramatic rainbow-at-dawn awakening. I don’t have The Answer. Clearly, I’m never going to be Swami Janet, maybe Swimming in the Questions Janet, but any leaning towards Enlightened One status skipped this girl’s DNA. 

Slow, but steady, wins the race. Isn’t that what the old fable suggests?

Thanks to Nature, aka God, bit by bit, however, I’m piecing together The Puzzle. 

Acceptance.

This Place wants nothing from me. She even forgives me if I do rotten things like leave trash, which I would NEVER do, or hang a hammock from tree trunks (guilty as charged). This Place provides unconditional love not just to me, but to everyone who graces her forest home. 

Like Terrie, the camp host:

Two years older than me, she has cared for the Twin Lakes Campground for nine seasons. She has a reputation for keeping the campground immaculate. Every day, she and her crew scrub the flushing pit toilets and blow-out the firepits and surrounding asphalt. “I like to keep it the way I’d want it to be if I was camping here,” she explains. Terrie, a tanned, white-haired fireball of light and energy, decorates her 24-foot trailer to remind campers of the season; these days she scoots around in her golf cart handing out Halloween candy. She calls it “her” campground and means it; she and her senior citizen dog reside in the same spot from April to mid-October or when the weather changes and the campground closes. As she ritualistically strips the faded American flags from the campsite post she patriotically places at every campsite at the start of the season, Terrie tells me that she comes back every year, despite her adult children’s objections, because it renews her spirit and brings her back to her truth. “I am a different person here than I am when I’m at home,” she said, referring to the 117-degree Palm Springs condo she shares with her second husband. 

Sunday at noon when she leaves, Terrie will cross the Sierras and drive along the Oregon and Washington coast hoteling it all the way. “This job doesn’t pay a lot, but it pays for my vacations which I NEED to do before transitioning back home,” she says, rolling her eyes and explaining that her sticks and bricks address is a “Place of Responsibility and Duty.” 

Terrie confesses that her family doesn’t “get” her and why she has to “regenerate” and leave the family each year. “That’s OK,” she says, because she knows her decisions won’t always please the people she loves. “I have to do this to restore my soul.”

Tilting her head in the afternoon sun, she sighs, taking-in her last day and a half in the Sierra Fall, and says, “They have to accept me, just as I accept them.”

Terrie has had a turbulent past; an abusive, controlling first husband, and a daughter who was a drug addict from the time she graduated high school until just a couple of years ago when she made the difficult decision to press charges against her for robbery: “One of the hardest things I have ever had to do.” Her grown kids alienated her for calling police but, she said, wiping away tears, her daughter stole all her possessions and, worst yet, abandoned her senile elderly mother for 48 hours while Terrie was out of town for the weekend. 

“It was the last straw,” Terrie said, and one in which her daughter just recently credited her with as the decision that finally turned her life around. “If it weren’t for that decision,” her daughter acknowledged, “I wouldn’t be here, I’d be dead.”

At 44, having attended a Meth program and living clean and sober with other recovering addicts for the last two years, Terrie’s daughter is once again the daughter she once knew. She has a job, goes to meetings and has renewed her relationship with her teenage daughters. “Can you ever forgive me?” Terrie’s daughter asked, just last week. “Yes, my dear girl.” 

“But what’s more important,” she said, “is have you forgiven yourself?”

Forgiveness.

Terrie has three other grown children and 10 grandchildren whom she dearly loves, “more than I can put into words.” But just like the advice she gave to her daughter, she says, she has learned to take care of, herself: “If I don’t do that first, I’m no good to anyone else.”

This Unexpected Place. This Unlikely Teacher. 

As I enjoy my last 24 hours in this Chapel of Peace, I am filled with love and gratitude to the Teachers I’ve met, the blue skies and crisp weather I’ve experienced, and the luxury of Time. 

Had it not been for a MapQuest error, I wouldn’t have been where I was supposed to be. As I used to tell my 8th grade English Language Arts students, “It’s not a mistake, it’s an opportunity.”

Eastern Sierras in the Fall

Writing by the lake. In my dreams I’ve sat here on a cold rock bathing in the silence of air. 

No sounds. 

No talking. Just the tap, tap, tapping of my fingers against the keyboard, which, in this environment, is amplified, sounding vulgar and intrusive. 

It takes a week for me into settle into place. It takes a week not being busy, not traveling or sight-seeing to really nuzzle into peaceful slumber, into me. 

Last night, four eves into my Fall Leaves 2022 Sojourn, I was restless. All the second-guessing surfaced. I cried. Finally. Over my decision to sell my home, which I loved. I sobbed, like a requited lover, will I ever have a home, a place, that I loved as much as Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea? Was I hasty? Was I caught up in Real Estate Fever-Sell High/Buy Low-Frenzy? It was kinda pathetic, but cathartic too. When you are alone and have no one to bounce ideas off with, your brain becomes its own ping pong table. Yes no, yes, no, wrong, right. 

Now, sitting along the lake, in the early morning light, I can see those midnight doubts for what they are: Fear. Which is natural, expected, and part of this rocket to the moon called growth.  

I suppose it’s like leaving a relationship that you have fought for, worked at, but realize that at the end of the day, you just don’t have the enthusiasm to keep up the battle; your partner isn’t going to change, doesn’t want to change, and those same problems that ticked you off—for years—have jailed you in a hamster wheel waste of life. Your life, the life I am living along this lovely creek besides The Best Campsite I Have Ever Stayed at In My Life. Clean, quiet, my God, the campground host blows out the firepit and level—LEVEL—asphalt pad every time a camper checks out! Temps here are perfect—72 degrees during the day, a refreshing 32 degrees at night.

It’s not that I couldn’t have found this place if I still had my home, still had my marriage. But it would be different. I would have had definitions, guidelines, that didn’t look or feel at all like the picture in my head: falling, flame red and mustard yellow birch leaves, goose bump breezes and the mardis gras mountain creek. Yes, it’s all a party, every day, every moment. Fall is Nature’s season of peace. 

The stillness, the openness, I feel being here with my dear Monet would not have happened if I didn’t lose the book ends of my life, if I didn’t leave, say goodbye, shut the door of my old life, my over-planning-worries, I wouldn’t have experienced this heaven on Earth. Not like this.  

I realize that my doubts are another expression of fear. It’s a weight that keeps me from moving forward. It’s natural. Just as natural as back-tracking, returning to old habits—forgiving, again, looking at the good while ignoring the bad, eating sugar, spending too much, drinking too much, craving acceptance and all my other go-tos.   

But here I am with my laptop writing at the base of the Eastern Sierras. I haven’t had breakfast—my traditionally boring, but healthy, kefir and Fuji apple—my two cups of very strong coffee are all I need to keep me  warm and alert this fine, 30-degree morning. My senses are acute and alive. 

To be alone in the wilderness. Well, not exactly alone, alone. There are stores and gas stations and restaurants and hotels and portapotties and hikes and places to go grocery shopping and camp neighbors. And I love it. And I love it. 

Sitting on this shimmering granite stone, grateful for the intense sun on my back, knowing that today’s agenda includes taking a glorious $4 shower, finishing “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and dabbling at my painting, maybe even taking a nap, I know that being here is more than enough. Time to put up the hammock.  

My new home

So many times I wanted to write to you—to me—in my sweet-like-a-child attempt to capture the moment, the day, the weeks. But, alas, the day-to-day responsibilities of couch-surfing, of determiming where I am needed, where I need to go for a night or several, stole my desire to sit down and write. 

In case you need an update, here’s a numerical (it’s tres neat) summary of my life off the road: 

  1. Helped my Ex transition into a hotel while he awaits a permanent new address. We lunched. Erranded. Hung out. Birthdayed. Argued, a bit, and came to a resolution that God is right there in the center of our lives, that He has our backs, that we need to be more open and patient. 
  2. Prepared for my month-long, on-the-road adventure to experience the Fall colors along the 395 and destinations unknown.
  3. Enjoyed the company of other dogs, my cousins’, as my amigos and I house-sat while they helped a family member recover from a nasty accident.
  4. Spent a ton of money fixing my camper van, Luna Bella Blu, and took a drive to check out a Sprinter camper, which turned out not to be the best fit for me right now. 

See, not all that exciting? However, learning to be a vagabond, living out of a suitcase, realizing I really need very little to be happy, that I still worry even though I don’t need to worry, are helping me step forward into a completely different life. As a lifelong planner/preparer/anticipater/Plan B-er this new, let’s see how it works out lifestyle is taking a minute or to to adjust to. 

Nothing is magic, yet everything is magical and soft and vibrant and possible. I say this as I sit along a creek outside Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, CA, the campsite I thought I had reserved, but turns out, there are A LOT of Twin Lakes in the U.S. and even California. My five nights were reserved for the Twin Lakes near Mammoth not near Bodie. I decided to stay here the night because it is perfect. I have cool, quiet neighbors, Jim and Kathy, the stream, asphalt for Luna, and 72 degree temps and the Fall colors and a much-welcome brief rainstorm. In fact, the place is so picture-perfect that I’ve reserved another night just in case I don’t like the Twin Lakes campground down south. This sweet spot is going to be hard to beat. There’s nothing like the baptismal, healing qualities of a babbling mountain creek and a cup of, now cold, coffee. My soul already feels quieter.

On the weekend, my son and my two grandsons were in Barstow camping in 90+ degree temperatures at a ghost town founded by the guy who established Knotts Berry Farm–Callico. We love it there! Lots of old mining stories and trinkets to lure tourists. And icy cold beer and bottles of sassperilla. The boys love taking their pick axes and shovels, mining headlamps and hammers and chipping away at the hillside looking for silver and other treasures.

Their great Uncle Randy introduced Callico to my kids when they were in elementary school. It’s a kid-friendly day trip, but in our case, we spent the night so the cousins could have fun the next day. As Bronson said, “Grandma, I never want to leave here.” While the heat was repressive, an EasyUp provided the shade we needed to survive. Turns out in Southern California, October really isn’t Fall, it’s the peak of summer. Next time, we’ll probably camp toward the beginning of November when it’s cooler and less crowded.

From Barstow, I took off for my Monet-and-her-Mama camping trip along the Eastern Sierras. I have been fantasizing about this trip for a year. While I’m always a bit nervous camping by myself, after the first night all the familiar feelings re-surface and I realize that when I’m in Nature I’m home. It feels safe and secure and meant-to-be. 

In the city, back home in the South Bay, I was overwhelmingly nostalgic. I felt sad and melancholy. I doubted my decision to sell my home. I second-guessed everything, was on the Internet far too much, watched TV “news”, caught up on “Handmaid’s Tale”, and felt worried and lost. “Where would I spend the night?” “How could I help Bruce?” “What could I do with Monet since she couldn’t stay with me?” and on and on and on. 

As I told my sister, I think I need more separation from my old life in order to feel the contentment of my new one. 

And so, for the next bunch of weeks I will be gone. Limited cell reception. High gas prices. My cozy and cramped VW. Vegetables, fruit and a mostly healthy menu, some great wines, strong coffee, my paints, my writing, my ukulele, new hiking boots, my writing and, of course, my senior citizen traveling companion, Monet. 

California forest service campgrounds are all about to shut down for the season. Soon, I will be boondocking on BLM land. This, too, is a new experience. I have a couple of nights booked at a cool little hotel my son likes, but other than that, it’s $14 a night camping, until it’s free. I’m excited about having the time to work on my book and being totally embraced with a sense of peace only Nature can provide. This fresh, fresh air. The quietude. The positivity of clouds and trees and birds and trout and bright orange leaves and a passing rain that pushes you to adapt, jacket-up, and say thank you for realizing there is more to life than the nonsense of politics and anger and the need to always be “right”, unless it’s right now, this moment, enjoying the pause button called Real Life.