Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Grandpa's Gator

I have a standing date on Friday afternoons. Friday because I get off work early every week. It's not a date I have to get dressed up for or nervous about. I don't even have to leave the house. I push the send button on my phone and dial up my grandpa. 

Sometimes he's home and sometimes no one answers. But I try and call every week if I can. Grandma is usually at work or teaching at Kids Club. And Grandpa and I just chat. Sometimes it's only for a few minutes, but sometimes we get going and talk for a long time. We talk about him growing up on the farm and the things they used to eat back then. We talk about the tricks he played on his city-slicker cousins when they came to town. We talk about his polio and how he was the victim of some of the worst kind of bullying I've ever heard of. We talk about how he met Grandma and their early years of marriage nearly 60 years ago, I think. 

He tells me that back in the day growing up on the farm he knew how to fix all kinds of car problems. Ladies' nylons could replace a fan belt in a pinch. If a steering tire went flat, you'd switch it out with a rear tire till you got it replaced. And Purex laundry detergent was the go-to traction device if you got your tire stuck. 

Last week, I got to spent a short afternoon visiting in person with Grandpa. He has a new toy. A John Deere Gator. The polio Grandpa had as a child never did make it easy for him to get around. But his new toy sure does help when he wants to get out and check the mail on the old farm road where he lives, or to haul fire wood when he needs it. Even though temperatures barely reached above freezing, Grandpa took me for a spin in the Gator. 

It's easy to see that even in the cold, I gave the Gator a thumbs up. I may have to skip Friday phone calls more often in favor of road trips and rides on country roads with Grandpa. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas is for kids

I know I've been absent around here. I took a little break for the holidays. With all the fudge making and shopping and gift wrapping, not to mention traveling, I felt more like relaxing than writing. 

Last week, seems to have been a week full of children. First it was my nephew entertaining everyone with his antics, from riding his school bus to his lip sync routine. We also took him swimming, easily one of his absolutely favorite activities. Such a different Christmas than last year, when he fell asleep after opening the first gift. 

I spent one evening with my cousin's son, who I haven't seen in nearly a year. He's grown into such a little boy with his big eyes and giant dimples and head full of hair. 
And I even got to head over to visit a friend and her brand new grandbaby. The precious baby spent the entire time asleep in my arms. Her big sister and I became fast friends the first time we meet, when I read book after book to her. She has grown into such a little story teller, and it was wonderful to spend the day with her.  

Being Auntie has become one of my favorite titles in life. 

The week included more relaxing than doing. Movie theater with the family. Candlelight service. Pedicures. Visit to the grandparents. And all my favorite childhood Christmas flicks. Christmas just isn't Christmas without "White Christmas." 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tradition. Tradition.

On the street where I grew up, I knew my neighbors by name. Maybe because I delivered their newspaper, back in the day of door-to-door collection. But also because that street was in a small town. It's easier to know your neighbor in a small town than in a big one, where you might not ever run into them at the grocers or the post office. 

Back on the street where I lived, one neighbor made Christmas candy. Every year. Without fail. A tin of chocolates filled with orange creme and mint, and the trick was figuring out which little chocolate drop contained your favorite flavor. Inevitably, I'd choose the wrong one. 

A few years ago, my sister and I started our own holiday tradition. Making cookies and fudge, and sometimes other crafty things like felt ornaments. 

Last week, we got together and decorated my sister's tree:

And on Sunday, we spent all afternoon making fudge. We skipped the cookies this year, and focused only on the fudge. Mint, peanut butter, and sea salt and Nutella. 

We had to wait for it to set, then we packaged it all up in gift bags to give away. Because we sure couldn't eat an entire afternoon's worth of fudge. 

Yesterday, after work, I got to walk through my old neighborhood, knocking on doors and delivering that fudge to everyone I knew. Some were home and I got to visit with them. Others were not, so I left them with a card on the front porch. 

Traditions don't have to be something that you've done all your life. New traditions can start any time. What Christmas traditions do you participate in? Do you make goodies to give away? Or are you starting a new tradition this year? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Poinsettia Tips #1 & #2

I walked into the office today and was greeted by one wilted poinsettia. One out of six isn't terrible odds. But so far I haven't killed a Christmas plant, and I'd like to keep it that way.

I had forgotten that these plants, in this office, need to be watered ever 4 or 5 days, not every 6 or 7. I water the other office plants once a week or so, sometimes I can get away with going a little longer between watering. They aren't spectacular looking, but so far they are all still alive. But that schedule doesn't work for these great big blooms.

Poinsettia CPR commenced early today. The droopy plant got a cold water bath in the sink. The other plants, though not wilted, also got a good long drink. To be on the safe side, I rotated the weepy guy away from the heat vent, and my fingers are crossed that the he will bounce back by day's end. Thankfully, they usually do. Come Monday, I'm going to have to remember to repeat the routine all over again.

So how do you keep poinsettias alive for the month before Christmas?

#1 - water once every 4 days

#2 - rotate the plants with each watering

Happy growing!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Doe a deer

Sunday night I was driving home from my sister's house ready to tackle the last of the snow shoveling, when I stopped at a stop light. And what to my wondering eyes did appear, but three reindeer foraging in the snow.

The photo does not do justice to how very close I was to them. To see their thick winter coats from that close was a sight, knowing that the night before temps had dropped to nearly 30-below. Deer are not an unusual sight in this mountain town. But this moment, with the sun just on the verge of setting, was too perfect not to attempt to capture, even from the driver's seat.

And hey, after last week's Sound of Music special, doesn't it make you want to break out in song and frolic through the snow?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Negative temps, oatmeal cookies and snow shovels

Record breaking temperatures and lots of fluffy white snow had me threatening to declare Saturday a hibernation day. What? You've never heard of a hibernation day? It's a day where you resolve to do nothing, go nowhere, and be thoroughly unproductive.

But a text from my old neighbors changed the course of my day. An impromptu neighborhood holiday party was in the works. It was set to take place after this mountain town's annual Christmas parade, but when the parade was cancelled due to weather, mass emails and texts went out to all the guests.

Not wanting to go to a party empty-handed, I assessed the contents of my cupboards and whipped up some Walnut Oatmeal Cookies, based on Ina Garten's Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. Thankfully, I had some goody bags in my Christmas stash, and was even able to get Ol' Faithful, aka the Ol' Jalopy, aka my Camry, through the snow and across town to make it in time for the festivities and to chat and eat good food with all my old neighbors.

I miss them. My old neighbors. I've officially lived in my new neighborhood for 3 weeks now, and I haven't met a single person on the block. Thinking back, I realize it did take me 6 months to a year to meet all the wonderful people in my old neighborhood. It took longer to know which ones would come shovel my sidewalk after a snowfall. Or who I could borrow tools from if I needed something.

Not ready to put my gypsy life behind me completely, I don't plan on being in this neighborhood long enough to know whose been in the hospital most recently, or who will bring me soup if I get sick, or which neighbor's pet is on Prozac. Even so, I would like to know which one of my neighbors would be the most willing to let me borrow a snow shovel.

We don't have a snow shovel yet. Everyone else was out on Saturday shoveling and sweeping the dry powder off the sidewalks. Our duplex neighbors shoveled right to the middle of the driveway and sidewalk and not a step further. That act alone solidified in my mind how different this neighborhood really is. And even though that would have been the perfect opportunity to join in the neighborhood activity of shoveling snow and participate in community, I had nothing. I couldn't even go out and join them if I'd had the time in my baking frenzy.

I finally stopped by the office yesterday and grabbed the shovel I've never seen anyone use in the four winters I've worked there. And I was the only one shoveling snow on Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tending a Christmas garden

Grandma Shelby's garden was always beautiful. Full of flowers. Roses. Always roses. No matter if she lived in the city or at the beach, everywhere she lived, she tended her garden.

When I was young, Mama assigned each of us a corner of the yard to garden. I learned which plants were weeds and which were not. But as I've grown older, I've come to learn that growing plants takes a lot more than making sure they don't get choked out by the weeds.

Houseplants have been a bit of a challenge. Water too much and they wilt and yellow. Don't water enough and they wilt and brown. I've killed off a number of houseplants for lack of knowledge and attention. 

Four and half years ago, I became the caretaker of the office plants when I started working at the firm. Some way, some how, nothing has died . . . yet (knock on wood). There have been touch-and-go moments with a few of the plants, including a wayward palm tree in a room with low ceiling clearance (it was starting to look like a jungle before I "accidentally" broke a few limbs). But so far, I've managed to keep everything growing, if feebly. I even took my own African violet into the office and managed to get it to bloom with a regular regimen of food and water.    

For the last four Decembers, I have been the recipient of half a dozen poinsettias. December in a family law firm is either really busy or really slow depending upon the day. Either people can't stand the idea of another holiday with their family, or they try to tough it out until January. You never know what the day will bring. But in December, on top of my other legal duties, I must tend to the poinsettias, and figure out a way to keep them alive until Christmas Day. 

They arrive wrapped in plastic. I unwrap them and marvel at their splendor. They are large. They come each year, two by two, red, white and pink. It is the one time of the year the office is full of color. I arrange them everywhere. All six of them. It feels like a floral shop (or maybe a funeral home). Flowers are everywhere in the small office. 

After they arrive, I head to the back room and pull out the Christmas tree. It's artificial, and I spend a good 20 minutes wrestling it to get it to stand up straight. I fluff and arrange the branches, as best as the old tree will let me. Then I spend another 20 minutes hanging ornaments while Bing sings "White Christmas" over Pandora radio. I end up placing at least two plants under the tree in place of presents. And clients ask if the flowers are for them. 

Inevitably, after a day or two the flowers lose their petals, their leaves, and I am left trying to resuscitate them in a cold water soak in the bathroom down the hall. So far, it's always worked. But they never look as splendid and as full as the day I unwrapped them. Every year I vow to do better. 

My six matching poinsettias arrived yesterday. Everywhere I turn, I see them in their gold foil wrapped pots. My fingers are crossed that I can balance their watering just right. It's not an easy task, keeping plants alive. But come Christmas Day when my bosses take the flowers home for their families to enjoy, I know it's all worth it. 

Have you ever been tasked with keeping poinsettias alive? Got any tried and true tips for me? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pure H2O

As I mentioned yesterday, Sister Konnie asked us all to write down what we were thankful for in 2013. I thought about writing the usual. Family, friends, health. But when I thought just a little bit longer, I thought about what was different in my life after 2013.

A couple months ago, I hopped on a plane (or three) and traveled to Guatemala with World Vision. I spent a week riding bumpy roads outside of Guatemala City witnessing the work World Vision is accomplishing in the country. Learning more about how they are addressing issues of malnutrition, providing sponsorship programs and education for children, building homes, and even bringing music to children way up in the mountains. (You can read all about my journey here, here, here, herehere, and here.)

One day during that week in September, after multiple stops on the bus, spending the morning listening to the sounds of string instruments join in the song of the birds, and after way too much bottled water, I entered a lean-to made of patched wood and tin. Its door nothing but a bright blue tattered tarp. With flies buzzing around my head, I contemplated the porcelain toilet in front of me. A glorified outhouse.

This is not the bathroom, but you get the idea. 
(Photo credit: Matthew Paul Turner)

I could see through the gaps in the "walls" and the blue tarp door. I could hear the conversations of those just outside the structure. And I knew in that moment that I was lucky that this, this was the most primitive bathroom I had ever been compelled to enter (outside of camping and hiking sans facilities).

On the drive every morning, we would see women doing laundry in the community wash center. Washing clothes by hand. And everywhere we went that week, laundry dripped from clothes lines. September is the wettest month. And it rained every day. Yet the clothes stayed out on the line. I wondered how it would ever get dry.

(Photo credit: Laura Reinhardt)

As I put a load of laundry in the washing machine in my home, I think about those women bent over wash basins. As I stretch sheets pulled straight from the dryer across the length of my bed, I think they'd never be this warm hanging outside in the rain.

And as I turn the tap on and off countless times each day, I think about the week I spent drinking bottled water, brushing my teeth with bottled water, cleaning my hands with bottled hand sanitizer.

Did you know that in this world nearly 1 billion people don't have access to clean drinking water? Double that number and add some and that's how many people don't have proper sanitation? Can you even imagine that? Nearly 4,000 children under 5 die every single day as a result of lacking these basic necessities we take for granted over and over again each day.

This holiday season I am thankful for indoor plumbing. For running water. And for organizations like World Vision who work to address the need for clean water around the world.  It hasn't been all that long since indoor plumbing was the standard even in this country. Both my parents remember a time and place without it. But we've got a long way to go to make sure everyone has access to clean water.

World Vision is celebrating this Christmas season with the Share #Joy Advent Challenge. Will you join me in the Share #Joy challenge today and advocate for clean water for every child? To do so, go here, and sign the Beyond 5 petition and tell your congressmen you support the Water for the World Act. To learn more about the sharing your voice, hop on over to the World Vision blog.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

A quiet day of thanks

Subdued. That's how Thanksgiving was this year. After last year's big family gathering, our last with Grandma Shelby, we kept things quiet this year. Mama and Daddy came to the mountain for a quick trip. Sister Konnie and her husband, Jon Boy, hosted the crew, and friends drove in from the big city to join us in our low-key day of thanks.

We had a beautiful view of the Cascades. 

Sister Konnie and Jon Boy cooked a feast. 

I baked that Pecan Pie again. And even Miss Kym who professes to dislike pecan pie, liked this one. 

Crafty sister Konnie made a paper turkey for all of us to add our feathers of thanks.

I thought about all the things I am thankful for: family, friends, health, work. But these are things I'm thankful for every year. This year, I was thankful for something new.

And to build suspense, I'm going to make you come back here tomorrow to read all about it. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Road trip

I love to drive. It's difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my great-grandmother never learned how to drive.

I drive just to go somewhere. I drive even when there is nowhere to go.

I realized that while I've done plenty of travelling this year, I haven't been on many road trips. I needed to fix that. I made some time this weekend to get back out on the road. It's been very cold in the mountains, but so far the snow has stayed at bay, which made a spontaneous road trip possible. I packed my bags and left right after work, ready to spend the weekend with my parents.

I got to go shopping with Mama. Hang with Dad. And give the dogs lots of love.

It had been too long since my last visit. Nearly a year. But sometimes, everyone needs to go home, even for just a quick weekend. To travel the roads you first learned to drive. To hear once again the radio stations of your youth. To see faces of people who knew you back when. There is something about going home.

But a quick trip means it's over to soon. Lucky for me, I love driving in the evening. And my trek between the mountains and home has some incredible views.

Chasing the sunset.

Don't worry, Mama. I pulled over to take these photos. 

Do you ever feel the need to get in the car and go?


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The one about the chair

I think everyone needs their own chair. An upholstered chair to sit and read or watch t.v. or simply to relax. A chair that is the essence of them. 

I have no idea where this idea comes from. Maybe it was growing up and Grandpa Z had his chair, and Grandma Shelby had hers, and one year my mom got my dad his very own wingback chair in a dark green fabric depicting fishermen fly-fishing on a river. Later Mama would get herself an armless chair in red with little blue frogs all over it. 

Everyone needs their own chair. 

A few years ago, I saw my aunt's chair. It was an old chair she got a great deal on at a thrift store or garage sale. She kept it around for awhile as is, but eventually paid professionals to recover it in a luxurious fabric in her very favorite color, pink. It is her chair. And I loved the structure of it. I wanted one. 

Since then, I've learned that it's called a channel back chair. Over the years, I've looked off and on. I've waited. I am not a diligent or hardcore thrift-er. I knew what I wanted. I knew how much I was willing to pay. But in my sporadic searching all I found were chairs in terrible shape that were being priced at double what I wanted to pay. Plus I was busy denying myself shopping privileges while I worked at paying off that student loan

Occasionally over the years, I'd plug in channel back chair to the local Craigslist to see what would pop up. About a week ago, I plugged it in and found nothing local. There was one possible candidate, but it was way up near Seattle. I wasn't willing to drive 12 hours to buy a chair. Then for some inexplicable reason, I was thinking about it again Friday night, and I searched simply for chairs. And what do you know, but there it was labeled "Upholstered Armless Chair." 

I couldn't believe it. It was at a Habitat Restore the next town over. I knew I just had to have it. And then I got nervous when I realized the post had been up for 7 whole days already. There was no way this chair was still in the store. No way. 

But my sister, being the kind soul that she is, said as long as I bought her a cup of coffee at the Sister's Coffee Company, she's drive me up the next morning. 

I woke up anxious to get going. I ran to the bank, and Sister was still getting ready when I got back. It was just after 9:00 so she suggested I call the store to see if it was still there before we hit the road. 

They had barely opened the store, but Mari confirmed that the chair was still there and she'd put my name on it. I think I jumped up and down when I got off the phone. I couldn't get Sister out the door soon enough. And then I got worried that maybe there were structural problems with the chair, or that it smelled like cats. 

"Sister, you don't have to buy if you get there and don't like it," my sister reassured me. 

I wouldn't want it if it smelled like cats. I am allergic to cats. But I really wanted the chair. 

We found the store thanks to my sister's smart phone. And when we walked in, the chair was nestled under a great big artificial Christmas tree. It wasn't falling apart, and it didn't smell like cats, and a great big tag read: HOLD FOR SHELBY. I was kind of like unwrapping a present on Christmas morning.  

As I paid for the chair, the gal who answered my call earlier said three people had called about the chair the week after it had been posted, but I was the first to actually show up. (This wasn't my first great experience with Habitat for Humanity Restore. My bed came from there too at an extremely good price. If you haven't checked out your local store, go do it. You might be surprised at what you find.) 

I have my very own chair. Eventually I plan to fix it up and reupholster it. But for now, I'm happy that it's a very neutral color, and it's oh so clean, so I can enjoy now while I attempt to decide how I want to finish it. So many color and fabric options to consider.

It does have a seat cushion in excellent condition. I just didn't get a photo of it. 

Do you have a chair that is all yours? Is there a story behind it? What does it look like?

If you were going to re-do this chair for me, what would you choose? A velvety celery green fabric? A damask yellow pattern? A solid white or navy? A pattern with fish or frogs? Or something completely different.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mother of Rain and Pecan Pie

My book club just finished reading Mother of Rain. Have you read it yet?

If you like historical fiction, WWII novels, Southern fiction, Appalachian story-telling, this is the book for you. But don't take my word for it, I am kind of biased when it comes to this book.  So go read what others have to say on Good Reads and Amazon. Then hop on down to your local bookstore and pick yourself up a copy. You can thank me later.

My book club met yesterday to discuss Maizee's story. Since I love a good thematic party, I made a very southern pecan pie in a cast-iron skillet for the occasion. I got the recipe from none other than Southern Living. It's called Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie. How's that for a name? Here's the link to the recipe if you want to give it a try. 

Even if you don't make yourself the pie, go get a copy of Mother of Rain. You won't be sorry you did.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Gypsy life and holing up for the winter

I stepped out the front door yesterday morning to the smell of wood smoke. The air was thick with it. It was hard to tell if the fog was truly weather induced or the result of every house on every block burning logs all night long.  

I had to light a wood stove for the first time in my life last weekend. And the only reason I was able to do that is because my brother-in-law had set it all up for me before he left town. It was like fire-starting for dummies. Pick up lighter, lite stick, put stick to paper, wait for flames, add log, shut door, get warm. All that and it still took me three tries to get the fire going.

I’ve been told if you do it right, you only have to do it once. So much for that. By the time I woke up in the morning the fire was gone. I apparently don’t know how to do it right. And I wasn’t going to attempt starting from scratch on my own.

I get that building a fire is supposed to be some sort of human instinct. Cavemen did it. But I seem to lack that primal skill. Maybe all those genes went to my twin sister. She was the firefighter after all.

My twin sister. Fighting fires and saving lives. 

I am pretty sure I never even got a fire started after a week at outdoor school back in 6th grade. All I remember is that I was told later that pocket lint is supposed to be good for that. That’s just one of the many useless to me facts I carry around in my brain on a daily basis. Kind of like what I wore on January 15, 2012: skinny jeans, green sweater, brown boots.

I’m not sure if my lack of fire smarts is related to the fact that I can’t light a candle without burning the tip of my thumb nail to a char. To solve the problem I simply swore of matches and switched to a long-handled lighter. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had one too many sparkler sparks fly into my eyes on the 4th of July. I’ve also sworn off sparklers.

Eyeball protection comes first. 

It’s not that I can’t start a fire. I’m actually pretty good at starting fires by accident. Just ask my wood handled teapot what happened when I left it on high for four hours while I went to class. Bye-bye wood handle; hello electric. (And yes, I realize how lucky I am not to have had further damage on that one. And have been properly scolded by my friend the Fire Investigator.)

It’s not even 10 degrees above freezing today. I keep getting messages from my East Coast friends about the cold, but I know for a fact it’s 15 degrees warmer there.  I can only smile. Because part of me misses D.C. winters. Sixties in January and wearing shorts and a t-shirt on a run around the lake.

A client guessed that I’d be happy living in Florida. A native of Germany, she told me she doesn’t like the transition from warm to cold, but she’s happy once she gets used to it. She skis. When she lived in Florida, she used a snow machine to get her snow fix. I think she’s crazy. When it snows here, I imagine the white stuff is the sandy beaches of the Gulf coast. So maybe I'm the crazy one. It keeps me going, even if it doesn’t change my reality.   

It already snowed one day last week, briefly. And it looks and feels like it won’t be long before we see some more.  In the meantime, this gypsy has been busy trying to figure out what to do with herself for the winter.

As of this weekend, this gypsy life is on a temporary hiatus. Much like a bear, I’ve found a place to hole up for the winter. It’s only temporary. I’m only taking the necessities. I will still be a semi-gypsy with many of my belongings in storage. I won’t be getting too comfortable as another move will be in the future. But at least for the months of smoke-filled air and white and snow, I will have a temporary home and a place to call my own.

Don’t you worry. No matter where I end up, I will always have the heart of a gypsy.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A fireworks kind of day

Today is a day to be celebrated. Not just because it's 11-12-13. And not because November 12 was Hayley Mill's birthday in the Parent Trap. It's someone else's birthday today too. And she isn't a fictional character, although she's written her share of fictional lives.

Today is Mama's birthday. I think every birthday should have a fireworks show, so Mama, here are your fireworks:

I hope your day sparkles!

And for any of you who want to wish Mama a happy birthday, hop on over here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Men in the Yellow Hats

You see those men in the yellow hats? They are some of the most important people in this world to me. They are part of my patch-work family. Not the one I was born into, but the one I've created. I call them my Uncles, though we do not share the same blood.

I only met them when I moved across the country to attend school. But they quickly took me into their group and watched over me and protected me whenever they were in town. They came to D.C. often in pairs or groups. At least twice a year, they'd gather all together.

One of those times was Veteran's Day. These men are all Vietnam Veterans who continue to sacrifice their time and their money to volunteer at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall. Mama wrote all about these men and what they mean to our family over at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund website, go read what she has to say. She tells the story much better than I can.

I didn't join them in D.C. this year, but today I am honoring these men, my uncles, and those who have and continue to serve their country. Welcome home and happy Veteran's Day!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

As you wish

She texted me. Asked if I'd make her cookies. I don't tell her no.

I rarely tell her no. More often than not, I take an "as you wish" approach to her requests. I'm not sure if she uses that fact to her advantage or not. She may. She's the baby. She has always been the baby. And with that comes the perks of being the baby, like having no shame in asking for exactly what she wants. And often times, getting it. Especially if she asks me.

I get off work, and I bake her a giant tray of cookies. I add an extra cup of chocolate the way I used to make them when we still lived at home. I drop the dough onto the cookie sheet in extra large heaps.

This act. The mixing. The stirring. The shaping. The waiting. It is love. Love in action.

She doesn't get home until late. But when she does, I greet her with a giant tray of cookies and she is not disappointed.

I can't give her everything she desires. I can't fix all her problems. But I can bake her cookies. And when she asks, I do.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gypsy Life: Trunk Organization

I was recently asked how I pack my trunk to live life as a gypsy.

The short answer is that I keep the things I need readily available. But that doesn't explain much.

To be honest, lately nothing in my life has been well organized. I've hauled bags and baskets of my belongings from one house to the next for the last three months, and everything is a chaotic mess right now.

When I started out on this gypsy journey, my trunk was considerably more organized.

For anyone aspiring to live life as a gypsy, here's my recommendation for trunk organization.

Keep a duffle bag or suitcase full of clothes in the front alongside a toiletry bag. These are the two items you're going to take with you wherever you go. Anything else can live in the trunk on a more permanent basis.

Get a box or basket to corral your shoes. Place this box up front and ready to be switched out according to each day's attire.

Behind these daily necessities you'll have the non-essentials. A bag, suitcase or box for sweaters and jackets and scarfs depending on the weather. It's still easily accessible, but also contained and out of the way when you don't need these items.

I also recommend keeping a sleeping bag back here. I have had my sleeping bag in my trunk since I first moved across the country in 2005. You never know when you're going to need it, or when it'll come in handy. Even before my gypsy life, I was a road warrior who has spend many a night asleep in my car. And with winter weather on the way, it's just a good idea to have a blanket or sleeping bag in the car anyway.

You'll probably also have a number of miscellaneous items, whether it's books you think you might read, a football or other sports equipment, tools, or if you're anything like me, a box full of Sweet Baby Rays barbecue sauce. You may not ever find yourself in need of these items, but you also never know when you might want them. So be sure to leave some trunk space for the random items that make you feel at home.

Take it from me, gypsy life is a heck of a lot easier when everything has a place and you know where to find it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A happy ending to a Happy Girls 1/2

I woke to the sound of wind chimes and rain. It was still dark. I reached for my phone. 4:45 a.m. My alarm wasn't set until 6:15. Just enough time for me to get dressed and eat a small breakfast before my sister was to pick me up to drive the 30 miles to the race location. I rolled over, but all I could think about was the rain and the wind and how unprepared I was for this race.

It's not my friend's fault I was unprepared. And just to clarify, I owed her big time. A few years ago, Leslie and I trained together for my first half marathon. She'd show up on my front porch early in the morning and make me go for a run. With her as my partner, I was so much more ready to run 13.1 miles. 

The day of that first race, she was battling what she thought was a simple cold. She showed up anyway. She ran the entire race. And then her sister made her go to urgent care. Turns out she ran a 1/2 marathon with pneumonia! The doctor scolded her and banned her from running for a very long time. So when she called me and asked me to run the Happy Girls Half Marathon in her place because a number of recent events interfered with her ability to train for this one, you can understand that I pretty much couldn't say "no"after what she'd been through. After all, she ran with a serious lung infection for me. The least I could do was attempt to train to run in her place in a few week's time. 

So Saturday morning, I tossed and turned for an hour dreading running the 13.1 miles I wasn't nearly prepared for, trying to decide how to dress for the weather, and wondering if I'd even manage to cross the finish line. I was anything but a happy girl. Before I knew it, my alarm was beeping. There was no turning back now. 


My sister picked me up and we made the drive to Sisters, Oregon for the race. We sat in her car until I had to take the shuttle to the race start. The race was a point-to-point, where the start is at a completely different location from the finish line. I ran one other big point-to-point race, when I ran the Tucson Marathon two years ago. Like Saturday's trail race, it was advertised as being all down hill. But when you're running 26.2 miles, most of it on the side of a highway, it does not feel downhill or fast. And the only people around to cheer you on are the people who have volunteered at the water stations. With my prior experience, I wasn't sure what to expect of this race. 

Unlike the Tucson Marathon where the racers were allowed to stay on the buses until race time, we had to all disembark once we arrived. I happened to take a bus that put me there an hour before race time. Thankfully the rain had mostly stopped at this point and we only had to contend with a cold wind, because the "fire" that the race officials had advertised was nowhere to be found. Nor was any other sort of shelter for the runners. 

Soon the turnout where we were dropped off was full of women. This was a women only race after all. I overheard one of the women huddled near me comment to a friend after returning from the port-a-potty, "The great thing about women's races is the toilet seat stays warm." I took her word for it, glad that I didn't need to find out firsthand. 

Finally, someone got all of us moving to the starting line. With some blue skies visible as the sun rose, I decided to ditch my jacket and gloves and keep my long sleeve, which I knew I could tie around my race when I warmed up. I was in the second wave, so I headed toward the middle of the pack. I saw a guy holding a 9.5 mile "Handsome Pacer" sign. Apparently there were men allowed to run this race, so long as they wore skirts and held a steady pace. 

What little training I did do was at 10 minute mile pace. I knew I didn't want to push it and try to run faster than that. But I also knew, I have a tendency to start out too fast. So I decided to stick with this pacer early and see how I did the rest of the time. My only real goal was to cross the finish line. And that may have been the best decision I made. 

I had to rein myself in to stick with the pacer for the first few miles. The majority of the race was on a single track trail, a line of women in pinks and purples and every color under the sun stretched out like marching ants before and behind me. I train mostly on trails, but haven't done much racing on trails. I got a little worried when I rolled my ankle right before mile 1 on what would be one of the flattest, most gentle portion of the next 10 miles. Thankfully, I didn't injure myself, and that would prove to be my only rolled ankle of the entire race. 

I stayed with the pacer for the first 4 miles. The "all downhill" race proved to have a number of rolling hills through those early miles. After the first aid station, I decided to try to settle down into my own pace. In miles 5, 6, and 7, I found a pack to run with. I had to hold back on the up hills to keep from passing them, but the downhills were perfect. I haven't run in a pack like that before, and enjoyed the dynamic of sticking together, intentionally or not. The trail was still single track at this point, so occasionally someone would say "left" and I'd have to do my best to make room for them to pass on the narrow trail. 

Just before mile 6, someone behind me said "Rainbow on the left." It had come out around mile 3, but we'd been running in the trees for some time. Here where the trail hugged the edge of the ridge, off to the left was an incredible view topped off my a rainbow stretching across the cloudy gray sky. I tried to take a picture, but refused to stop running and nearly broke my neck when the trail turned rocky when I wasn't looking, so this is the best I could do. 

Trust me. There was a rainbow out there

At mile 6, I got momentarily confused and thought I was already halfway done. I texted my sister who was already done with her 5k. Halfway. And I snapped our traditional "halfway" photo.  And then I realized my math was off. (I was an English major for a reason y'all!) I texted my sister back, "Kidding mile 6." In the interest of not falling on my face, my texts thereafter consisted of only mile numbers. 

Sort of halfway

I managed to stay on my feet the entire race. But every now and then I'd hear a squeal or a screech when someone stumbled. Mile 7 came soon enough. And by mile 8 the trail opened up and before I knew it I was running beside the older woman I'd spent the last few miles drifting behind and then I'd passed her and I was suddenly on my own. It was also starting to drizzle. Up ahead, I saw a girl fall. I trudged on through mile 9 and by mile 10 it was full on raining. 

The thing I hate about running in the rain is wet feet. And when I say hate, I mean hate. As in there are entire cities in this country I dislike because every time I ever raced track there I could hear the rain sloshing in my spikes as I ran (I'm looking at you Spokane). But by some odd turn of events, the trail wasn't very muddy and my feet stayed relatively dry. I knew in mile 8 I was already developing a blister on the arch of my right foot. It happens nearly every long run. The rain wouldn't help it, but all I could do was keep going. The thing I noticed about Saturday's rain is that it was dripping down my face and falling in droplets on my hands as I ran. I started singing the chorus of  Luke Bryan's "Rain is a Good Thing" in my head. "Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey . . ." 

By mile 11 that chorus had turned into the Army and Marines anthems, or at least the parts I know after hearing them at every ceremony I've been to over the years. It was just what came to me when digging within to find a beat and inspiration to keep fighting forward. At this point I had already run further than my longest training run for this race. There was no sense in letting the rain slow me down. I only knew that the faster I ran, the sooner it would all be over. I knew by my watch that I wasn't going any faster, but I was maintaining the 10 minute miles I settled on back at mile 4. 

When I could see the mile 12 mile marker ahead, I got a text from my sister asking me if I was on my last mile. I knew I wanted to finish strong, but I had no idea where I was in relation to the finish line. At various points along there trail there had been men standing with their children cheering on every runner who passed by. But it was only one guy here and there. Suddenly there were a lot more voices and I could see buildings on the other side of the treeline. And I heard someone say, "Go Shelby." 

I looked up and saw my sister coming towards me. I gave her my best smile, as good a smile as I could muster after running 13 miles. She started running beside me. I handed her my cell phone and asked her how close I was to the finish. It's right around the corner, she said. I thanked her. I was so glad to have her running with me, even for a little while. She had biked with me on my long runs. Kept me company. Kept me distracted from the pain. Kept me moving forward. Encouraged me along the way. 

She'd been texting me during the race at different intervals. You've got this sista. You're a rockstar. Go sister go. I read them all. She'd been timing my miles based on the sporadic mile updates I gave her and knew when to expect me at that last mile. I couldn't have done it without her, the training or the race. 

Afterward she said I looked pissed when she was running with me, but I promise I really was happy. I should have worn the cat mask to hide my Mean Girl face again.

Coming down the final stretch, I tried to give it a kick. One man on the sidelines cheered, "Keep it up. This is where all your training pays off." Of course, I thought to myself, "Or not training." One lady's kick was stronger than mine and she passed me with mere yards to go. But at that point I didn't care. It was over. I had run 13.1 miles at a 10 minute mile pace on the bare minimum of training. 

My first half marathon was faster. But I had trained and it was on a paved, flat and fast course. I ran this one on basically no training over rocky trails. And I learned a new lesson in life, set your expectations low, and you might be surprised at what you can accomplish. OK, maybe that's not a great life strategy, but it sure worked for this race.


Sister and I skipped out on the post race festivities in the rain and headed back home. I was house sitting again, and there was a long soak in a hot tub waiting for us when we got there. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

It ain't easy being green

I don't know about you, but I have some of the funniest friends. Remember Leslie and Shawna and their mouse problem? Last night I went back over for dinner and the handing out of candy. A night at the girls' house is never without adventure.

They love any excuse to dress up. You'd think they ran their own small theater with the number of costumes they can dig out of a closet or whip up at a moment's notice. Inspired by the witch's hat they placed on my head, they decided to pull out some old face paint. 

Only when Shawna went to wash her hands after applying the paint, she realized it wasn't washing off. 

We then spent a good amount of the evening scrubbing green paint off my face. 

It's mostly off this morning. I wore a green shirt so at least I'd match. How did you spend your Halloween? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Countdown to race day

I only have two days until the 1/2 marathon. Two days. 

I have been a slacker. I managed to get in all my long runs, but with a trip across the country and being generally busy with other things and house hunting, training has been virtually nonexistent. I did run a 5k last weekend with my friends. 

Running in costume is a whole different kind of experience. You remember how I told you that when I run, I morph into a Mean Girl? Well, when I run in a mask, I apparently can't stop smiling. I mentioned that about halfway through the race, because I felt myself smiling. I don't even know how that happened, but I've considered masking up every time. That wouldn't be weird, would it? 

So the half is on Saturday and I realize it's sort of pointless to worry too much about my lack of training. I might fit an easy run into my schedule before Saturday morning, but no promises. 

No matter how this goes, I am already looking ahead to some future racing. Setting some goals for a couple more 1/2s in the next year, and maybe just maybe one more longer race. I ran a marathon two years ago, and swore up and down that I'd never do it again. But I flew home with some Marine Corps Marathon finishers on Sunday and might maybe have caught a bug. I'll keep you posted. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On gypsy life and living with others

I mentioned the other day that I came home from my trip to snow, and I wasn't happy about it. I'm still not happy about it. But this gypsy life is teaching me something about myself.

I am basically cold 90% of the time. I can sometimes be found in the office still wearing my coat and scarf. My bosses poke fun at the space heater I keep under my desk year round. I have mastered the art of typing while wearing gloves. I do not enjoy being cold. I do not enjoy winter. Especially in this mountain town when it starts in October, apparently, and lasts until June.

When I lived alone, my dissatisfaction with winter wasn't so much of a problem for others. I could go home from work and pout about the weather all night long if I wanted to. And I would. I'd snuggle up in my favorite corner of the couch like Sheldon Cooper, crank up the gas stove, and drink hot water. No one cared what I did. There was no one around to see me mope about the fact that it was dark at 6:30, or that the sun never did find its way around the clouds that day.

But now I'm a gypsy, and at least currently, this gypsy is living with other people. Those other people notice when I'm being cranky about the cold temperatures and short days. They are beginning to wonder where I am when I come home from work and head straight to my room to curl up under the blankets in a desperate attempt to get warm.

When I live with other people, they insist I crawl out of my hole and join them for dinner. When I live with other people, they wonder why I don't light a fire in the wood stove if I'm cold. They don't know about my knack for catching my thumbnail on fire when I lite a match, or that my idea of a heat source contains an on/off switch.

In case you can't tell, that's a forced smile on my face.
I need to work on this. My dislike for winter and cold. As I head into my fifth winter in this mountain town, I'm going to make an effort. I am not going to go all Buddy the Elf excited about winter either though. But at least while I'm living with others in this gypsy life, I need to make a concerted effort to buck up and not loath the cold as much as I do.

It'd probably help if I could figure out where I packed my staples of winter survival, my wool pants and sweaters and puffy down coat and warm boots.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let 'er Buck!

You know you're from Pendleton, Oregon when:

a) You fly a red-eye across the country to attend a barn dance.

b) You gift your hosts Pendleton Woolen Mills products.

c) You are immediately selected to be one of the contra dance leaders.

d) You teach the dance caller how and when to say "Let 'er buck!"

e) All of the above.

Oh, yes. You better believe I did. What do they say? You can take the girl out of the country . . .

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post Trip Blues

There were snow flakes and ice on my windshield this morning and the clouds are so thick I am not even sure if the sun is actually behind them and it's 10:00 a.m. But let's not talk about how NOT awesome Monday mornings are. Especially Monday mornings that follow epic weekends.

My weekend started Wednesday night when I hopped a plane and flew across the country. I got one more state checked off my list.

I finally made it to Connecticut!

I spent four lovely days with some of the greatest people I know. You know you've met some wonderful people when less than two months after meeting on the World Vision Blogger trip, we were ready to gather for a reunion. Roo and her adorable family were gracious hosts. They showed me around and took me to the boardwalk and got me feeling right at home at a barn dance. Complete with chocolate on my pillow and the most incredible baked goods made daily by her husband! (I don't even want to know how much weight I gained.)

Caleb and his family drove up super early Saturday for a Halloween themed 5k. The caped crusaders rocked the race. And Zack and his lovely wife joined us for dinner and pie that night.

More photographic evidence from the trip is sure to come. I wouldn't say I'm suffering from jet lag, because that just doesn't happen for me between East and West coast. But I would say, I do have the post vacation blues exacerbated by extreme change (for the worse) in temperatures.

Don't worry though. I'm working through it by nibbling on chocolate, avoiding looking out the window at the winter weather, and scheming up ways I can add more reunions with friends in the 11 states I have yet to visit (technically I've been to an airport in Michigan, but airports don't really count).