Get a Job…

The Elwah River yesterday. Yeah, I live in paradise.

You are no doubt familiar with LinkedIn, the social media platform for business. Also, if you are reading this, you are no doubt familiar with my story of many years of hard work in different industries in a very hot metropolitan area and then my decision to throw it all away on a dream and live in the rural northwestern portion of the United States. Haven’t regretted it for a minute, though I do miss the fantastic restaurants and grocery stores. I did do one business-responsible thing before beginning my lifestyle of reinvention and updated my LinkedIn profile. This was done because I kept getting offers from science-y companies in Texas to consider applying for positions. After writing “Thank you for your interest but not at this time,” for the umpteenth time, I changed my profile to read something along the lines of “I do my own thing which is exploring life and how many new things I can try. I have lots of experience and am a master at pretty much nothing. Oh, and I have actually sat and watched a slug move across the forest floor. Twice.” I think I might have added tag words like “Creative” and “Entrepreneur” and “Doesn’t Enjoy Talking in the Morning” and stuff like that.

And yet, at least once a month LinkedIn will notify me that I appeared in a few searches. I have to ask myself, “What the heck search parameters are being input that my profile would show up?” I can just imagine some hiring professional saying to themselves, “You know, this company really needs someone who can be mostly cheerful at the office and make sure that all the different dietary requirements are followed on the monthly company lunch meetings and maybe give good advice on the best way to grow out bangs. It’s only a part-time position that would pay full-time wages. Show me whatcha got, LinkedIn.”

And if your company does actually need someone to fit the above, then my answer is, “YES!”

In the meantime, let’s see how badly I can do at playing a game of chess. I’ve been playing at least one game every day. I did take a few days off and saw that my chess skills are not strong enough to miss a lesson, even for one day. If playing chess is like riding a bicycle, then I am the kid with training wheels and my mom pushing the bike behind me as I try to get the hang of just rotating my legs on the pedals.

This is a real photo of my lone black king scrambling to avoid check. “Death by 1000 cuts,” Chris called it.

Actually, I would like to think that I am improving my game if only because I now recognize a crappy move immediately after I have made it. I still get surprised at some of the rules, like did you know you cannot “castle” if your king is in check? Castling is some weird move wherein if your king and your rook have not moved and have no pieces between them, the king moves two spaces towards the rook and the rook then takes the space the king skipped over. There is another weird move called en passant which I haven’t quite figured out but has to do with that first move the pawn can do where it can move two spaces instead of just one and somehow it gets captured. To be honest, these rules sound like the type of house rules you learn about when you go to your friend’s for a sleepover and the whole family starts doing weird stuff while playing “The Game of Life” and you are like, “Whoa, we only get to get married once, right?” and they are like, “No! You can get married as many times as you want!” “Uh, guys, I don’t think that’s how the game goes,” you say but then they insist it is.

I have lots of job prospects, if by job prospects you mean stuff to do that doesn’t pay well (or at all). Other jobs looming on my horizon are:

The icky canvas cover on the banquette seat never stays in place and holds onto the dirt from the active lifestyle. The cordura that will become the new covers is shown on the edge of the table.

Sewing better seat covers for the banquette in Brighty. I had picked out a lovely crackled cotton and then realized my foolishness at putting nice fabrics inside a trailer that is a refuge for dirty dogs and people covered in forest duff. I got some heavy cotton canvas and tossed it over the seats. It isn’t holding up so well to the active lifestyle here so enter Cordura. This heavy and waterproof fabric is what backpacks are made from and will hopefully protect the seats.

The canopy! I have big plans for this guy!

Wiring the third brake light on my new-to-me canopy. I have wanted a canopy for some time now and even ordered a new one. Sadly, due to Covid the new one was going to take about four months to be ready (October to February) but then yesterday I found a used cap. And I paid a third the price of a new one, so that’s nice.

The cargo trailer that will become a temporary yoga studio. Look at the sunshine on the spiderweb, so gorgeous and a good omen. Sunshine in January in Forks is a rarity.

Turn cargo trailer into makeshift yoga studio. One cannot stretch out or up in Brighty. And doing yoga in 40 degree rain outside is not working out for me. Once I get bundled up for the weather, a forward fold or down dog is kind of difficult, plus the rain runs up your nose. I have a cargo trailer and bought a little heater but obviously I don’t want to close up the trailer while I am inside it (dangerous) and leaving the door and ramp open defeats the attempt to heat the trailer. I bought some heavy plastic meant for putting on the outside of houses to help insulate them. It is clear and the plan is to make a drape like the one that covers walk-in freezers. With a little heat and some light, I will be getting back into the zen of things. I hope.

Seal aforementioned cargo trailer against the incessant rainforest elements. The roof of the trailer needs periodic attention to prevent water from getting inside. It’s not fun but it is necessary. Really best done in the warmer, dryer months but I was forbidden from any kind of bending or lifting by the back surgeon so what can ya do? I could take the trailer down to Arizona but that seems excessive, even for me.

So that’s on the docket for the next couple of days. What are you up to?

We Aren’t All Winners, Are We?

win- to get possession of by effort or fortune; to be the victor in

The word ‘win’ has quite a few meanings: to marry, to find ore as in mining, and most commonly, it means to be victorious. Usually we think of victory or winning in black and white terms, I win AND you lose. This is what drives the competitive spirit, it is not enough to do a thing, you must do it better than someone else and this other person must accede that you are better. There is not room for two on the winner’s podium. Blades of Glory showed us what happens when there are two people at number one. The killer instinct in the competitive human drives us to claw our way up, to push ourselves hard mentally and physically, and to have the discipline to do it every day. There are aspects of the character of being a winner that embody the brute. As yin to the competitive yang, not all of us enjoy winning if someone else has to lose. I am one of those yin-like people.

I would cheer for my kid’s soccer team, naturally, but I really preferred if the score could end in a tie. Although now that if think on it, i am remembering one game that was a tie and went into an overtime thing where the goalie had to defend against a kicker and it was harsh to watch our tiny goalie defend against a Goliath of a kicker. I’m still carrying scars from the nail-biter that was that game.

For me, and others like me, the true win is when both participants feel happy. Cooperation is what feels victorious, not crushing an opponent. If I have to beat you, then I have not really won. For us cooperatives, there is plenty of room on the podium and standing up there alone is the actual loss.

It may come, then, as no surprise that I do not have a very big competitive streak. Not even behind the steering wheel in a crowded parking lot. If someone were to steal a spot I was waiting on, I might cuss and feel irked but I don’t feel like they won and I lost. Maybe the mama bear in me will loom up and I’ll feel disappointed in that person for not being a sharing type and being selfish, but then I find a different spot and let it go (with maybe a bit of side-eye to the person if I see them in the store). Conversely, if there has been a long line to turn, as with the US 59 and 610 exchange in Houston, and you come and try to nose in at the last minute to avoid having the wait, I will rather scrape the paint off my car than let you cut in front of me, because cutting in line is not cooperative. Cutting in line is a winner-loser mentality and I will defend cooperation by winning against you. See, there is a small bit of brute in all of us.

I do enjoy playing some games, but mostly group games that involve cooperation, no surprise there. Apples to Oranges and CodeNames are two favorites for group play. Remember when we could have groups? A commonality of these games is to decipher, they are not strategic. Strategy means, in my dictionary, to plan out in advance how you are going to beat someone so that you win and they lose. Strategy is the antithesis of cooperation. And this explains why I have never been good at chess. And I was okay with that.

Then I watched The Queen’s Gambit, like most of America, and fell in love with the classic Hero’s Journey told against the backdrop of chess. Now this alone did not encourage me to start playing, but when my aunt gifted me a year of MASTERCLASS, thank you Aunt Honey, and she mentioned that she was going to enjoy the chess class among others, that is when I got to thinking. Could I become good at chess? Could a cooperative become a competitive? Could Garry Kasparov lead me to the point that I want to stand alone on the podium, having crushed another person, having made them into an opponent rather than a friend?

Come along on this journey with me to learn whether the killer instinct is made or born.

No question, Monty has a killer instinct.

I also downloaded the chess.com app to play the game. Even though I know how each piece moves, I am using their app to start at the beginning. I have decided to dedicate time each day to learn and play at least one game. At the end of three months, will I be better at chess and, more importantly, will I enjoy beating an opponent?

Garry is a badass in the chess world.

At the beginning of Garry’s class, he discusses the qualities in the player, watch your opponent, take care of yourself, and what was most intriguing, that the ability to work hard is a talent. I loved this insight, especially because I can work hard. Actually, we all can when we want something. However, it is hard to work towards something you don’t really want, i.e. to become competitive, but I do like to work hard to develop talents. And so I realize, or I hope anyway, that the talent to be strategic and competitive can be a tool. It doesn’t have to take over my life and turn me into one of those people who always has to measure their self-worth by how many people are standing below them. Improving strategy could mean I will become better at knowing when to bring out certain talents to achieve my goals of everyone being cooperative. See, I have no problem holding dichotomies, it’s one of my talents.

So here is what I have learned so far from Garry Kasparov*, chess Grand Master, and from chess.com

Each piece has a value, some like the queen are more powerful and some, like the pawn, are less powerful, but each piece has value. The pawns are not to be thrown away willy-nilly, they are actually vital contributors to the game. Aspects of compassion and cooperation as a group are already evident. Oh wait, I am using my group to beat the other group so now I merge cooperation with competition. Dichotomies abound.

Now apparently there is a rating one gets as a player and chess.com tracks it for you. I played two games on the chess.com app against the computer, “Jimmy- Friendly” who is supposed to be pretty easy. The first game was played before watching any Masterclass or taking a lesson on the chess.com app and the second was played the next day after watching a lesson on each. The first game was just like the few I’d played as a teenager, I got trounced. What was worse is the app has these notes at the top of the screen to tell you if you made a good move or if you just lost everything. “Blunder? WTF you mean? How can you know that move was a blunder, chess.com? Just save your trash-talk for someone who even gives a damn.”

Moving my bishop was a mistake, huh? Well, you can explain that to me after you win the game, “Jimmy.”

The second game was better. I took some of the lesson advice like, “take control of the center of the board,” and “don’t move a piece twice” and even though I didn’t quite understand these tactics, I followed them. I started to see how there can be patterns to recognize in the game. Have you ever done a Rubik’s Cube? Okay, not messed one up but fixed one to where the colors all matched up again? If you have, then you know about recognizing patterns and then executing a series of moves to achieve the goal. So chess is kinda like that, I think, except someone can come in and mess up the pattern, I suppose. Anyway, I won the second game. The cool think about playing on this app is that you can go and replay the game, step by step, and see the blunders, good moves, and the recommended moves that you should have made instead. It was shocking to see how many times I could have had checkmate before I did and also the few times that Jimmy-Friendly could have had me in mate. Luckily, it does not appear that  the computer games count towards the real game play.

Not knowing any better, that 800 seems like a pretty good ranking for not having done anything yet.

To start off, you are given a ranking. Mine is 800. It reminds me of a teacher who had addressed the class on the first day and said, “Each of you has an ‘A’ in this class. It is up to you to keep it.” So I am given an 800. Another starting rank can be 1000, I think that is for people who start the chess.com app and describe themselves as experienced. On chess.com the ratings help to ensure you play others who are similarly experienced so that you can each enjoy and learn from the game. If you are pretty cocky and play someone way better in rank than you and win, your rank will go up much more than if you win against someone of a rank equal to yours. Chess.com gets very mathy with the whole ratings thing, even adding in a confidence score. So nerdy.

So far that is all I know about chess. Will I discover a latent competitive streak and extraordinary pattern recognition that has heretofore eluded me? Will I find myself climbing the rank and file (that’s a chess joke that I just made up because the board is gridded like a spreadsheet with rows being rank (letters) and columns being file (numbered))? If you play chess, please do leave a comment with your best tips and stories. If you play on chess.com then come look for me, yippikiyo, and let’s play a game. If, that is, you are a beginner. There’s little sweetness in a victory when the odds are stacked.

*Garry Kasparov became the youngest chess champion at age 22 and ruled the chess world for over two decades. He also shares my political views.

I’m Baaaaccckkkk

Well, hello stranger! It’s been a minute since I last saw you. What have you been up to? Staying well, I hope.

Me? Well, I have been on the down-low since early summer. Apparently some of those youthful indiscretions caught up to me and my spine was paying the price. Oh, I would guess it had been coming on, those times my back would hurt, the yoga pose that would pinch, the constant dull ache that had become like background music, but everyone has aches and pains as they age. That’s what I told myself.

Until the aches and pains became a pain I have never known. Turns out a vertebra was unstable, as in, it would wiggle out of alignment 4mm when I bent forward and 7mm when I arched backwards. Just as in basketball, traveling is a bad thing. This motion would pinch some nerves passing through and nerve pain would result.

Now nerve pain is unlike my usual back pain, it doesn’t respond to the usual pain killers, only a high dose of steroids would touch it. I was in a bad situation. The usual yoga and inversion chair tricks weren’t fixing the problem and getting out of bed or sitting to pee became issues. Actually, anything that caused me to move out of a perfectly vertical position hurt and I would have to screw up my courage just to get in the car.

I saw several doctors in a short period of time; as luck would have it, my need to see them coincided with the very beginning of the doctors being able to see non-emergency patients. I was able to get appointments with lightning speed and ended with a referral to a surgeon.

Surgery is not something I desire but the hope of an end to the pain was worth it. I can honestly say that I understand when a person chooses to end their life if there is no hope of pain relief.

Lucky for me there was hope and, while it isn’t a breezy procedure, it is common enough. I went to sleep…

And woke up pretty frickin’ uncomfortable. Actually very uncomfortable but it wasn’t the same nerve pain and for that, I was glad.

Tubes literally coming out of my nose, and other places

There were a few challenges along the way but all in all, I am doing so much better.

Coffee in bed with a straw and my sweetie.

I felt very impatient to get back to living. My surgeon had to remind me that my spinal fusion was on par with a kidney transplant in terms of healing. It helped me immensely to remember this, especially as I was prohibited from so much activity.

Home and guess who was glued to my side

I felt pretty tired many days and a new pain had shown up immediately after surgery and still is a force to be reckoned with but it responds to ibuprofen and I was recently released to do yoga and start gently living life again.

When I get frustrated because I hurt or Chris reminds me there are still activities I cannot do, I look at these photos and am grateful for the technology that literally saved my life.

Proof that I do not have a screw loose.

I have many stories to share with you and am finally feeling well enough to do so. Thank you for your patience!

Feel free to follow me on Instagram for more frequent photo updates.

It’s Time

Last fall I wrote about having a beginner’s mindset. In that post (read it here) I discussed how we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to grow; how we must stay open to new paths and new ways of doing things in order to reach our fullest potential.

Today I did something new for me, new and scary.

I protested for Black Lives Matter. I protested for America. And no matter your location or political leanings, you can do it, too.

This isn’t new, I know. So many people across the nation are doing this. But I tell you, no one is doing it in my little town of Grangeville, Idaho. There aren’t really people of color here, I have seen two black people the whole time I have been here. We do have a lot of people who are not deterred or disgusted by the current commander in chief. Marching with a banner would probably not open any conversations.

A Facebook friend commented last week that he and his wife stood quietly for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This struck my heart. I could not rest. Then I knew what to do. I don’t need banners, I don’t need any words.

I knelt in front of the county courthouse next to the flagpole. I knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, then I stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance. That is all.

I admit, it was really scary to be kneeling all alone in front of the busiest spot in town. I prayed, I meditated, I practiced the Pledge like a mantra or a Hail Mary.

And I will do this every day for two weeks. I talked with the person in charge and got written permission. I invited her and everyone in the courthouse, “to take a few minutes to reflect on the promise we Americans made, whether implicit or explicit, to be one nation indivisible and to hold true that liberty and justice belongs to every person.”

I don’t have any pictures from today. There is no social media to get involved. I don’t even know what might come of this action. I do know that when I was finished, even through the discomfort of being a spectacle, there is finally a deeper peace in my heart that has not been there this past week.

I invite you to try it. Set your timer for 8:46 and kneel or sit in silence. Pray, if you do that, or meditate. And say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,

And to the Republic for which it stands,

One Nation under God, indivisible,

With liberty and justice for all

One other thing. Double check your timer. Through my nervousness I accidentally set it for 8 hours and 46 minutes. After what seemed like a VERY LONG TIME I finally checked the timer. I had knelt for 20 minutes. Yeah. I am a goofball. Oh, and another thing, did you know the Pledge of Allegiance was initially written by a socialist? Funny, huh?

Wassup May 20, 2020

Isn’t today’s date a fun one to write? I guess every month will have the novelty of this triplicate. So I don’t have any deep thoughts to share but I haven’t been just sitting around practicing my Tik Tok dances either. Here is a snippet about what I’ve done the last couple of weeks.

Gathered morels

Morels! It is morel season in the Idaho mountains and I am thrilled. Mushrooms are the most awesome food. They have a delicious earthy flavor and the texture when cooked has just the right amount of chewiness. They have this thing in them called chitin, as I mentioned in the post on chanterelle mushrooms last fall, and that stuff can hold its own against heat. You cannot over cook a mushroom. You can burn them if you let them dry out but they cannot get cooked into a sloppy pile of mush. Which makes me think they are perhaps misnamed. This tough chiten makes cooking with mushrooms a dream because if you, like me, tend sometimes toward the “discovery style” of cooking, you do not have to worry about order of operations in the kitchen. If you are the cooks-only-with-recipe type then you probably have no idea what I am talking about. Let me enlighten you or skip the next paragraph.

Discovery style is when you do not have an end goal in mind. It might be more common in the artsy or creative types or maybe the spiritual types. You just enjoy the process. Discovery style writers have only a vague idea of a story and just write versus outline writers who have bullet points of plot and just fill in words to get from one bullet to the next. Discovery style cooks have a vague idea of what they want to cook, for instance your sweetie has nicely griped about all the huckleberries and figs you have squirreled away in the freezer. Out in the garden you see your rhubarb is getting kind of big so you grab a few stalks.

Once inside you look at the rhubarb and, remembering the fussing of your true love, you go dig in the freezer for last summer’s fruit. You toss the sliced rhubarb, some huckleberries, some figs, a large handful of brown sugar and a pat of butter that has been sitting on the counter into a pan and cook it until it is a yummy sauce that is then poured on everything in sight. It is definitely how my grandma used to cook. Maddening when you are trying to learn how to cook a special dish because it is all about how things feel rather than being quantified. This is discovery style living.

Back to the morels, we had missed the picking opportunity last year and were scraping the bottom of the dried morel barrel this last winter. This spring we are making up for it by actively harvesting and preserving the few that don’t get gobbled up.

Walking slow means I have more time to goof around without fear of tripping

My favorite way to have morels is to saute in butter, the morels will exude a delicious juice and voila, you have a mushroom in gravy. You can fancy it up a bit by adding a bit of herbs like a pinch of rosemary or sage, some chives or green onion tips, and some garlic scapes if you have them.

Made gnocchi

Here I have decided to make some gnocchi for the mushroom sauce since apparently just spooning the sauce into your mouth while you stand at the stove is bad manners and may be considered greedy. Gnocchi is not very difficult to make as pasta things go and it is the easiest to make gluten-free. To one pound of cooked potatoes, I used russet and microwaved them (boiling can make them too wet), add about ¼ cup of garbanzo flour and 1/3 cup of sweet rice flour. If you are comfortable in the discovery method and do not have these flours, use whatever you have. Well, maybe not almond flour because that would be a pretty strong flavor… although maybe that would make a delicious dessert gnocchi with the rhubarb sauce. See that’s how the discovery method works. Back to the gnocchi. Mash the potatoes with the flour, a pinch of salt, and an egg. You could skip the egg, especially if you are using wheat flour, a flour mix with xanthan gum, or just don’t feel like using egg and are willing to take on the repercussions of going rogue with a recipe. Mix everything well BY HAND, do not use a machine as it will make your gnocchi glue-like instead of a soft pillow-dough. Roll a handful of dough into a log about the size of a carrot, slice into 1 inch pieces and shape as desired. You can freeze them now or continue with cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a hard boil, drop the gnocchi in and when they float to the top, scoop them out. If you want to get extra decadent you can then pan fry the gnocchi after the boil to get a crisp exterior. If you notice your gnocchi dissolving in the water then STOP and just pan fry them. It’s actually my favorite way to have them now because you get a delicious crispy skin so you are basically having a gourmet version of french fries. Serve with your favorite sauce.

Hung Around

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I have been dealing with a spinal disc issue that is really getting in the way of doing what I want to do. I got this inversion table and love it. I am also doing physical therapy but I think the disc issue is beyond that. I am going in for an MRI soon and in the meantime the doc gave me a pack of steroids. Wow! Between the table and the drugs I was feeling AWESOME for a while! I have continued my exercises and inversion. I get my fix of NPR news and/or social media while hanging upside down so the time goes by really fast.

Pulled a Don Quixote

The day that had the highest steroid amount in my blood I went after one of the wild rose bushes on a rare flat spot on the hill next to the house because of some chickens. See, I do not have any chickens but I really think I want some. Apparently chickens will need a nice home and some yard to peck around. There was a great spot on the hill but a squatter in the form of a wild rose bush had taken possession of that spot. It put up quite a fight and was armored with the fiercest array of spikes but with the help of my devoted Rocinante, the squatter was dispatched to the burn pile. Above is the new spot for my chickens… which I do not have at this time.

                Sadly I have realized that chickens don’t really fit into a mobile lifestyle. Apparently our continental birds are unlike the chickens of Hawaii, you can’t just leave them alone for a few weeks or they will up and die on you. Once, or if, I actually settle down in one place for good, then I will absolutely get chickens. Unless maybe I can get some of those feral Hawaiian chickens and relocate them to Idaho. They seem to do pretty good on their own.

Revived my habit of making poor footwear choices

It has finally been hitting temperatures in the 60s at the mountain house and so, like any self-respecting Gulf Coast gal I pulled out the flip-flops. Down on the Gulf you can pretty much wear these shoes year round and it is perfectly respectable footwear. My problem is that I think I am just going to go check the mail, then I see (fill in the blank) and wander off in another direction. Next thing you know I am trying to scale the hill and clamber over downed trees just to grab a morel I happened to notice. What can I say, I have an aversion to lace-up shoes. Laces belong on corsets not feet.

Played Roman Emperor with daisies

I actually love the bright yellow heads poking up in the neon-green spring grass but I have learned that if you give a daisy an inch it will take the whole garden. So I did a bit of weeding in my tiered garden. Thumbs down to the daisy in the garden, thumbs up to the daisies in the lawn.

Tied up some flies

I do not fly fish. Let me get that straight. I haven’t tried it and so maybe one day I will but today is not that day. However, the don adores fly fishing and has all the accoutrements to make his own flies. I took a fancy to it this past week while he was gone fishing and actually tied a little water nymph fly. If you need something for scale, that is some thread that is about as thick as quilting thread that is being wrapped on the hook. It’s tiny.

Found a grave

Don’t you wish you knew the story behind this? I found this little grave off the trail on the city’s former watershed land that is now a  multi-use area for people. ATVs, motorcycles, hikers, horse-riders all share the many trails that are next door to me. This little grave might have been a person’s dog. Did the dog just love coming here so when she died they buried her here? Or did she meet an untimely fate along the trail? I hope it was the former. Actually, I hope Molly was a dog. I would hate to think of anyone else being buried here.

Started creeping on geese

Monty has always wanted a duck. He found a goose egg and carried it in his mouth across the meadow to me without putting a scratch on it. Here is his sad little face when I made him put it back.

Please can I keep just one?????

A couple of weeks later I saw the parents with their three little babies in the pond not 40 feet from the original nest. All three eggs made it and one of those babies is the one Monty had wanted to adopt.

Bullseye

One the same high-steroid day I brought my bow out for a little target practice. Yeah, baby! I still got it! I also pulled out my handguns which have not been fired in a couple of years. I am accurate enough with those but I actually prefer the bow. Fortunately there’s not much worry of needing to use the handguns around here so I can put the guns away and focus on the bow.

Cat in the Hat

Before the steroids I was pretty limited in what I could do. I got it into my head, with the help of a joke between my daughter and me, to make a hat for her cat. Have you ever googled crocheted cat hat? Holy moley, it is apparently A THING. Erika was kind enough to video call me when she got the hat and so I could see her cat actually begin forced to wear it. Ha! Just as a side note for all of you who might be concerned the cat was put into a position it didn’t want to be in by making it wear a hat, this is the cat that bitch-slapped me on my last Christmas in Houston. He had it comin’.

Well, that’s all for now folks. I am still holding to my 2500 words a week goal for my writing a novel thingy. I did discover a small issue with being a nouveau novelist. I no longer really like my protagonist. I was concerned about my antagonist being rather flat and two-dimensional so I decided to flesh him out, make him more real and likable so you could understand why he does what he does. Well now I have created a whole family for him and I really like them. And my protagonist is now the boring one. The really difficult part is that one of the bad guy’s family members, or maybe a couple I haven’t decided yet, but someone will die. Maybe I will go watch that movie, Stranger Than Fiction. Emma Thompson faced a similar dilemma.

Wish you were here!

Sweet Relief and Writing

What have you been up to lately? I have been happily leading my boring life which has not really been that affected by the Covid-19 rules that have up-ended so much of the country. I am in Idaho which is pretty much a social isolation situation normally, unless you count visiting the mules.

One thing I want to share with you is this.

That thing is an inversion chair. It is a huge part of my quality of life experience right now. I had a very serious flare up of back pain that was not responding to any of my usual tricks. Usually a bit of patience and yoga will alleviate the pain. Sometimes I add a bit of ibuprofen, just a bit as in 400 mg twice a day. I am pretty sensitive to medications so minimum dosing is best for me. This month, though, my back pain was not responding to anything. It was actually getting worse. And to top it off, I had an allergic reaction to the ibuprofen. Time to call in the big guns and order an inversion chair. I found this on Amazon and had it within two days. Assembly is so simple and they even send the few tools you need along with the chair! I like this one because it has many ways to adjust so you get the best fit. I started slow with just a 30% inversion, aka incline level, and did it multiple times building from 5 minutes to 15, then increased the amount to 45% and hang for up to 20 minutes. I continue to build up inversion per cent and time slowly. For me, I know to increase the incline level when I can come back up without having pain from the compression of vertebrae. Supposedly spending time inverted also eases wrinkling of the skin so that’s a bonus!

Best of all, this fantastic chair was dirt cheap! I have spent more on dinner and a movie than this thing cost. If you have back pain you should really try this chair. Click HERE for the link.

Hanging upside down is not the only thing that has been going on. I decided to see if it is true that every person has a novel inside just waiting to be written. Yes, I am actually writing a novel. I have done a few starts and actually finished one short story, The Dragon’s Heart, that you can read here. Writing the first chapter is the easy part for me. It is writing the subsequent chapters that is hard. I have millions of beginnings but knowing how to take that initial feint and giving it a middle and resolution is outside my skill set.

Which is where Coursera comes in. Have you heard of Coursera.org? Tons of classes online, many are free, and all you need is some sort of internet connection. I learned of the course, Write Your First Novel, hosted by Michigan State University and led by David Wheeler. The course is broken into 20 weeks and for those who actually want to write it is a great way to actually DO THE WORK. No theorizing, no building a world in your head but never organizing it on paper, this course gets you finished. The goal is 500 words a day. Easy if you already know what you are writing. But if it was easy, you would have already written it, right?

Do you have a story you want to tell? Let me know! And it is not too late to start up on Coursera and get your own novel out into the open. We can even be study partners!

Here are a few pictures from April.

Using Viewranger to learn the names of the mountain peaks. Sadly, it is not 100% correct.
Roots! Maybe I will grow my color out and just be natural.
Selfies are harder for mules but Otis is getting the hang of it
Still snow in April on the mountain where I live
On the Snake River. There is a grass airstrip across the way. See the yellow plane on the middle right?
Now can you see the plane? Crazy, right??!!
Shhhh, turkey hunting! No birds were harmed this day.
Monty has always wanted a pet duck. He found this Canadian Goose nest and gently carried an egg over to me. He was quite disappointed when I told him we had to put the egg back but he did show me where the nest was located. He went to check on the nest every day until the parents finally moved it. He is a strangely intelligent dog.

The Canadian geese sit on their nest for less than a month. We will be keeping an eye out for the babies. I had to explain to Monty that wild animals do not make good pets. His argument is two-fold: a) if you raise it from a baby it isn’t wild and b) they make popular Netflix shows. Can’t argue with that.

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Just a quick check-in

As I write this, the world is still in turmoil due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “Social-distancing” is a new term to describe the measures taken to slow the exchange of virus from person to person. Many people are facing inconceivable challenges due to the shut down of “non -essential” businesses and others have gotten tremendously creative in finding ways to quickly reorganize their business.

In the midst of it all, I want to let you know how much I appreciate your sacrifice. I say a prayer several times a day for each of you to give you comfort and support. Stay healthy, creative, and resilient.

With much love,

Susan and Monty

Continue Reading

The Dragon’s Heart

A Short Story

She maneuvered through the trees, her senses on fire, and in one eggplant-taloned hand she held a bloodied scale.

It had been a long time since she had let anyone in close, preferring to keep her distance from others the way her scaly armor protected her from the rain. She was a loner, and who could blame her for her self-imposed isolation? It had taken a lot of heartache to get to this point, she recalled, and heartache was not anything she was interested in pursuing any further.

Solace was now found in the steadfast green of her forest. The needles of the thickly branched curtains along the creek caught in her corona and, blinking her golden eyes, she absentmindedly shook them off. The snowmelt water burbled in time to her thoughts and she recalled a similar walk a few moons ago. That walk had started just like all the ones that had come before it, so many that she couldn’t count them all. That walk, that day, turned out so very different from the others, for along the small trail in the woods on that day lay a strangely colored egg. There were several eggs, actually, but all were crushed and broken, their gore already drying on the rocky dirt. All but for one.

Sweeping her sinewy arm along the ground and catching the intact sphere, she had cradled the egg, much as she now cradled the scale, and wiped the gore of its nest mates from its speckled shell, much as she had wiped the gore from her own scale earlier this day. Quizzically turning the egg in her claw, she had decided to take it home and look up what creature it could be. This unevenly colored sphere matched no living thing she had ever seen in her woods

At home she had placed the egg on a windowsill and pointed her device towards it, waiting to see what information the collective would have about such a thing. No match was found and she left the egg on the sill as she went about her solitary life. Sometimes the sunlight would illuminate the egg and capture her eye and thoughts for a moment, but only for a moment. She quickly returned her thoughts to the quiet routine of her world in which there were no surprises.

One day cracks appeared on the egg and a sound could be heard from within the shell. She watched, mesmerized, as the creature struggled to break free from its confines and move on to the new life it would face.

And she thought, while she watched, of her own armored shell. Would she ever again choose to break out, to let it crack open and fall away and face an unknown and perhaps unkind world?

The creature stood on the sill, small and wet and hairless but already standing on its two legs. Small eyes on the front of the head, inhibiting its vision, she thought, but the eyes were already focused on her and taking in the surroundings. No scales anywhear on its body yet it burst forth into a new life as if it had no fear. Of course, it had no past so it had not learned to be afraid.

How lucky it is, she thought.

The creature stayed with her and it was a never-ending experiment to feed the small being. It had no talons, she observed, so it couldn’t be much of a hunter so probably no meat. It did have an appetite like a carnivore, she mused. She began to care for this feeble-seeming being. This small and unknown creature was the very picture of vulnerability, yet it faced her and the world with a gaze that was piercing and unflinching.

And so the day came, this day, on this walk in her solitary woods, she realized she could no longer stay safely ensconced in her armor like a princess in a tower. She knew she could chose and so she made a decision to live as the creature had taught her, without the false safety of scaly armor. She realized that to be connected, truly connected to another was to be truly alive. With a trembling breath she plucked the scale from over her heart, letting it bleed and finally feeling the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the rain, finally feeling the heat of fear and the vastness of her own breathing.

Finally feeling

This story came about after thinking on how we try to protect ourselves from getting hurt. We expect someone else to make the first move so we won’t look stupid. We are afaid to say I love you or I am sorry because we are afraid to look weak. If there is one think I have learned in the last couple of years it is that true courage goes hand in hand with vulnerability. Okay, two things I’ve learned because I am also realizing how very important it is to begin each day, each moment, with a beginner’s mind. Just like a baby faces each day, just like the flower seed faces cracking open its shell, we have to risk everything to take those first steps.

If you enjoyed this short story, maybe the book below would also be of interest to you.

The Worry Trick: How Your Brain Tricks You into Expecting the Worst and What You Can Do About It

Most of my writing begins on my Kindle Fire. I like it because I can easily take it anywhere. It holds a charge for a very long time and, with this keyboard, it acts like a little computer. You can trade in any old tablet, even one that is not working (hello old iPad, I’m looking at you) and get credit toward a shiny new tablet.

Trade-in Amazon Fire tablets-Get 20% off a new Fire tablet

For reading, especially the book recommended above, I suggest you try Kindle Unlimited. There are SO MANY books you can read! From baking to yoga to suspense and thriller to personal development. Click this link to try it out for free! Kindle Unlimited

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Hero:

A person who is admired for achievements, courage, or other qualities.

Also a sandwich

My former home team, the Houston Astros, have been in the news of late. Sadly, this time it is not because of good deeds or good sportsmanship. Just a few years ago they were the darlings of baseball. Having won the World Series on the heels of the terrible Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians had a good reason to feel pride in their team’s accomplishments. Now I have to wonder, can a person, or team, be heroic one minute and then non-heroic the next? What defines a hero, really? How can I, an ordinary person, know who to admire, what example to follow, without knowing who the true hero is?

It takes more than a lot of muscles to be a true hero.

The aforementioned hurricane caused unprecedented flooding and then in the responses to the deluge, more flooding was caused by reservoir release. In the hurricane, it was as heartwarming as the end of the Grinch movie to see how our giant city came together to help and support each other. Just thinking about it makes my heart swell up like ol’ Grinchie’s did. There were numerous stories of people who would go out in the rain in boats to rescue people, giving of their time and resources to assist those in need. That type of response in the face of calamity spoke of heroism to our city. These people are our heroes.

Heroes act without forethought for personal gain

So how ‘bout them ‘Stros, are they heroes? For doing a great job at their profession? Astros outfielder George Springer plays great ball yet what moves my heart is his work in the community with SAY (Stuttering Association for the Young) and his willingness to be vulnerable about his stutter; to me that is heroism.

Heroes act without forethought for personal gain. Heroes are vulnerable and, through that, are courageous. Interesting how allowing your “weakness” to show is what makes you courageous. Heroes inspire people to be better, to achieve more. Yet these achievements are not typically monetary or status-building. We can admire (and perhaps covet) someone who seems to have it all, they aren’t heroes.

So wealth is not a heroic quality, then, neither is winning a game. We can and do get seduced by apparent achievements and wealth in others. However, it seems this sort of adulation is a bit of a hamster wheel, when one decides to chase wealth it never seems to feel like it is ever caught. Poverty isn’t a heroic quality, either. These elements of status actually mean very little in the definition of hero.

Disney’s animated movie Hercules retold the ancient story of a young man, ostracized by his peers, wanting to find love and acceptance by doing heroic acts. He grows and trains and performs perfectly, yet is not considered a hero by the gods even though he becomes famous and wealthy. Only when he acts without thought of his own gain does Hercules become a true hero. There is a lesson here.

So, I guess this is leading me to realize we need to be very thoughtful about who we admire, who we consider a hero. Babe Ruth has a wonderful quote about being a good follower (see below) I think he is right. We can celebrate achievements but it is only when we know our own values and show integrity to the life we have been given and the path we choose to walk that we can be a good follower. And it takes a good follower to know who the real hero is.

‘I’ve heard people say that the trouble with the world is that we haven’t enough great leaders. I think we haven’t enough great followers. I have stood side by side with great thinkers – surgeons, engineers, economists; people who deserve a great following – and have heard the crowd cheer me instead.’- Babe Ruth

Life without your ex…cuses

Is giving up excuses like letting go of a relationship? Maybe so. Rather than trying to distract yourself from your ex by diving into a new relationship and adding to your emotional baggage, what if you learned to build your life up all on its own? What if you could feel the sorrow of letting go of a dream and begin to build up new and more solid living experiences or maybe you could let go of a fear that interrupts your life and holds you back from fully experiencing the joy and vibrancy that is available in this time?

Sometimes blending in is desirable but not THIS time.

This is the time of living out loud and without excuses. I would like to say fearlessly but that isn’t accurate. You do not have to be fearless to cease, at least for the most part, letting fear define your life experiences. This is not a unique idea, we have heard the saying, “feel the fear and do it anyway” but rarely do we learn how to do this, how to stand up to the Goliath of our minds. Who would you be without this fear, how would your life be different, and in what way would you find deeper meaning and connection with life and people?

Clouds can obscure the sun temporarily. But only temporarily.

You might be wondering how to stand up to the Goliath of our minds? Say you have never ________ (held a snake, pet a dog, gone to a movie by yourself or dinner at a nice restaurant alone, thrown a party for yourself) and you have very good reason for this never __________ (snakes are terrifying and poisonous, you were bit by a dog once, everyone would look at you and wonder what was wrong with you that you were alone, parties are expensive and what if no one would show). Take a moment and think of some never that exists for you and the reason your never exists.

These are valid excuses for not doing something. They also continue to feed the fear in your mind. But what would happen if this fear didn’t exist for you? Some people share your fear and others do not. Is it important to know why this fear exists? Maybe or maybe not; knowing how Goliath came to be might not be pertinent, but cowering from Goliath is pertinent.

the vastness of the soul’s winter may intimidate if you cannot allow the light

Oh, did I say cowering? Did I call you a coward? Does it not feel like cowardice to be afraid of snakes or dogs? You might be thinking, “TONS of people are afraid of them, they bite and kill people every year, every day in fact.”

“Is that so?”

Live in your one and only unique way

Damn, that is that Buddhist monk/meditation stuff talking again. Of course, you can’t hear the tone in this written phrase but it is said not with a challenge or judgement or disapproving sound. It is spoken with true inquiry, “Is that so?” and this is where meditation comes in. If you have read much of my blog or know me personally, you were probably wondering when meditation would come up. I suspect there could be a drinking game where a shot is consumed every time I suggest meditation and double shots for when I say “Sit with it.” But that wouldn’t be very meditative, then, would it? Learning to sit with your thoughts and see the emotions that come up and the places in your body that get tight or have a feeling when you have those thoughts, that is the doorway to living without excuses. Learning to be mindful, to sit for 10 minutes and breathe in and recognize the thoughts and feelings and see how they can try to overtake you, see how just the thought of holding a snake makes your stomach lurch and chest get tight and head feel swirly. Notice how the feelings arise in your body even though there is no snake here and now. And let some part of you be that which notices the feelings even as the rest of you might threaten to become overtaken by these feelings. Notice how you put up resistance and practice releasing that resistance and accepting the fear into you. Accept the fear and just sit with it (double shot!).

Teachers come in many forms when you agree to be a true student

There are many teachers to guide you specifically in the way of living without excuses. The reason there are so many is because there are so many unique ways to manifest excuses. It is like the mind can be quite savvy at hiding behind excuses, especially when they are clothed in what appears to be rationale, thus there needs to be many different ways to shine the light into those dark excuse-laden areas. There is only one light, one truth, and there are many ways of experiencing it. So try different teachers, Pema, Eckhart, Byron Katie, even your dog or cat can be great teachers as long as you are willing to be a great student. Remember back in school, late-homework-excuses never amounted to much then and they don’t now.

So, what excuse do you have that gets in the way of pursuing the dream that has been put on your heart? Are you ready to move on from your ex, ready to build up your own beautiful and wild life? Great! Now, if you will excuse me, I have some magic to go create.

the teacher illuminates the magic