The Arrival of Zen

 

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This is the photo that told me I needed a third cat.  That old soul sweet face. I had two: Mocha who has an Instagram with 600+ followers and is a person in a cat suit. And Ming, the gorgeous but vacant girl who hides under things unless it’s dinner time.  I had to put Luna my polydactyl down a year ago last May. She was only six. It was horrible.

And then I started sporadically visiting the Facebook page of the rescue I got Mocha from. Nothing. Still nothing. Then…

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I know. Right?  She’s black. No Grey. No… well. She was three weeks old here and had been bottle fed. She loved people. I just knew. My gut was peaceful, my lips in a soft smile and I shook my head.

This one. 

So we waited till she was 12 weeks old and went to pick her up.  Brought one of those pet store pet carriers that’s really just a cardboard box with holes in it and a handle.  We got into the car and that little kit would have NONE of it. Panting. Scrambling. Trying to chew her way out. And we had a 1.5 hour ride home. I knew even though I wasn’t driving, letting her out was a bad idea. But she was FRANTIC.

And so.  l Let her out.

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And this is what she did. Climbed up on my shoulder and fell asleep. In bumper-to-bumper highway traffic. She’d look around every so often and go right back to sleep.

I said to my driver/husband. “She’s so Zen!”

Name stuck.  She still is. She’s smart and the other two cats find her balsy. She plays with Mocha and stalks poor Ming who has no idea what playing is (we think Ming had a kittenhood trauma, we got her late).

And now…

She is growing up and nine months old. She sucks on fingers when she can and still plops down on my left shoulder when she can. And is learning a human vocabulary (Dinner, Hungry, Play, Toy, Zen, Out – we have a small netted tent outside she and Mocha go in when I am out on the patio.)

The only issue – she’s so dark I trip or sit on her sometimes.

And in the sun, I am not really sure what color she is.

We are smitten. Even when she snores. And even when she steals food off the table.

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One Small Year

image-66570Shameful. How long it has been since I have been here.  I read old posts and marvel that I wrote them. And I remember. Where I was. What was going on? The feelings attached.

So much is different. I got a job. A job that was okay. I met great people. It was too chaotic, too unstructured, too much, OMYGODIAMNEVERGOINGTOGETALLTHISDONEANDALSOBETHECEOSADMINBECAUSEHEWILLNEVERHIREONE.  And when you tangle with a truly toxic, weird place like that you think you are incompetent. But then everyone around you does and suddenly you realize it’s not you. It’s the place.

I made a difference in spite of it. I wrote. A ton. Boring technical things. I learned enough about cybersecurity to never want a smart fridge and to be suspicious of my Echo.

And enough to get another job in cybersecurity two weeks ago.  And here I am. Working at home.

With HOTFLASHES, and a BADBACK. And oh I just need to shut up and feel blessed and lucky. Good Lord. What is WRONGWITHME that I see holes, not donuts? I want to be a LIFE LOVER. I know them when I see them and have a few out the outskirts of my life. Is that something you are born with or learn? I am 54 and stumbling around in the dark of life and want more bliss and sun. Things are SO GOOD right now overall and I just can’t seem to get it. To wallow in the goodness that is having enough money, and decent health, and love, and good kids, and sweet cats, and cars that run, and air, water, and food…

First world problems.  The water in my glass shudders as an F18 flies overhead.

How my mind works…

And I succeeded in capturing my thoughts this time.

I just figured out why our government spends so much money and has mountains of debt.

It’s all hush money to keep those that know about the fake moon landing, the contrails that are poisoning us, the fact that Obama is a Muslim, that 911 was an inside job, that JFK was an inside job, the existence of Area 51, the cure for cancer that the government is hiding, that secret societies rule the world….

……all of the conspiracy theories you can google require hush money.

Musings

  
1. ARE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? My first name is my paternal grandpa’s aunt’s (sorta, she was Jennie. I was supposed to be Sarah but we had a dog with that name, the family lore says my dad balked at naming me after an English Springer), my middle name is misspelled as Ellen and was supposed to be Elin after my maternal great grandfather’s middle name. 
2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? I cry watching the news, the Olympics, when my kids are kind. Really cried? I don’t remember. A good sign. Probably last summer after my PEs. 
3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? It depends on the pen I am using. 
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Salami!
5. DO YOU HAVE ANY KIDS? 2
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Yes. And I’d be nicer to me than me. 
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM? Fluent.
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Nope 
9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? For $5M
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? They don’t make it anymore: Post Fortified Oat Flakes. Their Oatmeal Crisp is close. 
11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? Nope. Not when I take them off or put them on. Confounds my husband. My kids do it too. 😂
12. DO YOU THINK YOU’RE STRONG? No. Despite evidence to the contrary. 
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Coffee
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Smile
15. RED OR PINK? Red
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING YOU LIKE ABOUT YOURSELF? I am very mean to myself. 
17. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING RIGHT NOW? Cropped jeans. Barefoot. 
18. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Pork potstickers from Trader Joes. 
19. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? ❤️husband loading dishwasher❤️
20. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Peacock blue
21. FAVORITE SMELLS? My mom. Horses. Neither of which I smell often 💔 My husband <— and that is really weird. LOL
22. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? One of my besties : Christina
23. FAVORITE SPORT TO WATCH? Nada
24. HAIR COLOR REAL? Not since 2001
25. EYE COLOR? green. I am the 3%
26. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? nope
27. FAVORITE FOOD? Maine lobster roll
28. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy Endings
29. LAST MOVIE WATCHED? The Words
30. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Floral
31. SUMMER OR WINTER? Winter
32. HUGS OR KISSES? Hugs
33. FAVORITE DESSERT? Tiramisu 
34. What book are you reading right now? It’s about writer’s block and I cannot remember the name. 
35. WHAT IS ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? I don’t use a mouse.
36. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT? The Olympics
37. FAVORITE SOUND? My kids laughter and my husband’s contented sigh. 
38. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Beatles
39. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Tuscany ❤️❤️❤️
40. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can write, but since I currently have writers block and think I suck, I’m going with “no” for now.
41. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Danvers, MA
Your turn! Entertain me. 

Morning cacophony… 

  
There’s a hell of a noisy tree on the other side of my backyard fence. It constantly chirps and squeaks. Sometimes there’s even a squawk, and then the branches shudder and something falls out of it. Then it gets quiet for a minute before starting all over again. 

The leaves are small and densely packed along the branches. The neighbors trimmed it way back a few years ago and it seemed to recoil and rest awhile, figuring out a strategy. Then it got angry and the period of dormancy stopped. Now it’s twice the size it was before the trimming and reaches over my fence in numerous places. I’m wondering what kind of tree.

A Needed Getaway….

I have been out of work for nearly seven months now. I have applied for nearly 500 jobs in various ways and gotten little traction. I’ve gotten advice, redone my resume three times, talked to headhunters, got my LinkedIn redone twice. I created an online portfolio. 

Nothing.

I look at the same walls all day. I try not to go anywhere or spend money. My moods fluctuate wildly between depressed, frantic, and restless.

I am running low on savings and entertaining applying at Starbucks.  

Is this my new reality?

Thankfully, my husband squirreled away some vacation money and insisted we “get out of here” for a few days.  It helped a ton with my attitude and outlook.

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My husband and I do suffer from analysis paralysis when planning a vacation. After all, we are spending our hard-earned money. We want to try to ensure (haha) we will have the best time possible.  (Well, at least stack the odds in our favor.) So yes we research and research and research.  Then we narrow things down.  And choosing a B&B in Paso Robles (wine country!) was no different.  All the locations had pluses and minuses. We knew what was a deal breaker: The place had to have a private bath (with a big tub since we don’t have one at home); it had to have a full breakfast: Not a “muffin and coffee grab and go”; and it had to be reasonably close enough to wineries, but not noisy and in town.

We narrowed it down to two: Seven Quails and The Winemaker’s Porch.   I read on the latter’s website “Your stay includes beautiful accommodations, a complimentary bottle of wine… and a gourmet breakfast each morning.”  But the deciding factor, the one that threw us over the edge, was the last name of the owners: Evenson.  Why? My mom’s maiden name is Evansen. I was pretty sure, looking  on ancestry.com at all my cousins in North Dakota, that these people were somehow relatives.  That last name has so many different spellings (my mom told me that those fickle Norwegians changed it on a whim and then sometimes even changed it back): there were seven Evensons in my family tree. I couldn’t wait to talk about possible people in common when I met the folks.

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Getting there:  Oil fields of CA. Tiny Towns.
The drive was supposed to take 4-5 hours and thanks to LA traffic was seven. We did take a “OMYGODDWHERETHEHELLAREWE” two lane road that was a blast navigate. Coming down the hill we were behind a dump truck with a trailer and that driver knew the limits of his truck and was right at them.  I recorded us rounding corners at 58MPH behind him.  For entertainment value alone, this route was a riot. Add in the diverse scenery (caution: take a reliable car full of gas because there are NO TOWNS on Route 33 and no cell service) and you had a winner when you’re in a car that loves corners!

We thought we would be there by four and I called to tell the B&B owners it would more likely be six.  Waze (our trusty traffic app) told us about traffic, but there wasn’t much we could do about it: half the population of CA was obviously going the same way we were.

Are We There Yet?!
The last stretch: a sign “Pavement Ends”.

What? Indeed. It was an unpaved road that crossed over a paved one.

Next right and we were at the gate to the place.  It was 6:10PM.

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Photo from the website

The estate house is stunning and there’s one B&B bedroom located on the first floor in it. But we had reserved the largest room with its own huge bath (soaking tub! Yay!) in the unattached large “barn”.  Don’t let that word fool you: hidden inside is a charming oasis.

I got out of the car and stretched a bit, and noticed the evening wind had picked up: I’d find out over the next four days that this happened every night about 5 or 6 and the temperature dropped from 103 to 50 pretty quickly as well.

Who Are You?
I rang the estate doorbell and was greeted by a couple in their sixties who didn’t look anything like the Evensons/owners on the web site.  They introduced themselves as Denise and Jim and offered us cold water and a chat. It turned out that Marlowe and Corrine Evenson (the owners) were on vacation that week.  My husband and I tried to hide our disappointment.  The owner’s name had been the deciding factor, after all.  There’d be no “how are we related” discussion.  If we had known they were going to be gone, I can’t say we would have still picked this place. But we were tired and ready to shake off the drive and get acquainted with our home for the next four nights.  Denise and Jim offered to have the included wine tasting ready that night: Frances James Vineyards only sells their labeled wines to people who stay at the B&B. We agreed that it was a good night for it. The last thing we wanted was to get back in the car!

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In The “Barn”

The downstairs Barrel Room was charming: a full-sized kitchen with a small living area off it (Jim said we should feel free to store any items needing refrigeration here as the fridge in our room was small).  This kitchen had just been done as the owners were thinking about opening up the barn to AIRBnB type leases: renting the entire place to a larger group.  The stairs up to our room were steep and narrow but well-lit.

image (2)At the top of the stairs we opened a door on the right and entered peace, quiet, and a spa- like scented large room with a canopy bed, an electric fireplace with a remote (it was forecast to be 102 the next day, but nice touch), a kitchenette (small fridge, sink with disposal, and a microwave), a round table with four chairs, two sitting chairs, and a bathroom with a large soaking tub, shower, and a sink.  Oh yes. This would work.   Our hosts left us to get settled and said they’d meet us on the back patio at 7:30.

The little touches in this place were classy: a container in the kitchenette with three different teas and cups, wine glasses, chilled water in the fridge, tons of pillows, very soft sheets, enough towels for eight people,  Gilchrest and Soames soaps and shampoos, a container with cotton, cotton swabs, bath salts and fizzy tabs, and two logo’d soft robes.  Just lovely.  My favorite touch was the choice of books on the nightstand: all “feel good” titles to help with the transition from “normal life” to “relax awhile and think about how lucky you are.”  There were at least two “guestbooks” with reviews/comments people had written about our room and their stay in general. The owners have been doing this for a few years and you can really tell.

Taste and Talk
At 7:30 we headed out to the estate patio, connected to the barn by a paved walkway. Even in the dim-but-adequate-light, I could see planters full of flowers everywhere and the wind had really picked up.  We sat down at a large glass table where there was already a plate of crackers, cheese and salami, bread, two small bowls of olive oil, and four wine glasses.  The seats were padded and overlooked the expansive, green lawn. There was a fountain with a giant ball in it next to us, its water sounds soothing.  Jim explained the wines we’d be tasting and we settled in to relax and get to know them.  They were great people and our disappointment at not meeting the Evensons abated slightly  By 9:30 we were passing a yawn around and realized that after some wonderful wine (try the Petit Verdot!) and a filling snack, we didn’t need or want dinner that night.  Denise told us we were the only ones staying there that night so we could have our morning coffee (delivered to the table outside our room door) anytime we liked.  We settled on 8AM and breakfast at 9:30 and headed up to our suite.

image (3)Amazing (and a lot of) Food
The next morning, (the AC unit turning on kept waking me, but we figured out how to fix that the next night), my husband fetched the coffee and we enjoyed it as we got ready for breakfast.  It was more like brunch: fresh fruit and yogurt and then a large egg dish. Denise is an amazing cook!  We decided that we wouldn’t need lunch that day as we perused the map with our hosts and they helped us figure out where to go and what to do that day. We explored the grounds just a bit, noticing lots of fragrant lavender, flowers of every color, and woodpeckers, finches and hummingbirds who were quite busy.

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Crazy, gorgeous sunsets featuring my new favorite tree.

The next few nights we enjoyed: Peaceful digs and great sleeping (we recommend you open the windows after 7PM and turn the AC on fan only. You get the white noise if you need it and the fresh cool night air), three soakings in the tub, interaction with the four cats on the property (Molly is very friendly), amazing food (enough so we skipped lunch entirely those days!), great hosts/conversations, wandering around the grounds (they have a swing), watching the birds and bees drink from the fountain, drinking wine on the front patio in the dark, seeing owls and bats, and feeling grounded, refreshed and relaxed.

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Pluses:

  • No ambient light makes for great stargazing out front
  • Night winds and coolness
  • Location- by Sculpterra Winery
  • Large room with private attached bath.
  • Amazing large breakfasts (they can accommodate any dietary restrictions)
  • Lovely location
  • Great wine tasting
  • Great substitute hosts
  • Great recommendations for where to go and what to see

Minuses

  • Didn’t get to meet the Evensons
  • No balcony
  • Hot tub would be a serious bonus

We would love to go back and meet the owners next time! (Budget permitting)

I judge a getaway by the “reentry”.  Can I conjure up the feeling of being there after I have left?

Yes. 

(I will get to the wineries and olive oil on a later post!)

 

Ginger Lemon Scones

At World Market I buy this scone mix whenever I can, it is really easy, comes in a bunch of flavors and they even have a gluten free version I got for a friend once, but it’s a bit pricey.

So when I woke up Saturday with a seriously Jonesing for a scone (Jonesing – a much maligned expression for craving) I wondered about making them from scratch.  I had the candied ginger on hand, so I saved the recipe that seemed the most interesting and easy to my phone and got the rest of the ingredients that day. (My Jonesing would have to wait a day).

Sunday morning I got to work. These were worth the wait. I subbed whole wheat flour for half the flour. Very easy. Delish.

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/ginger_scones/

 

Planes, Ghosts, and a Daughter’s Love

Originally appeared at More.com.


A visit to an air show helped her connect with the planes that fascinate her and with the pilot father she lost.

It started before I was born. My “plane thing,” as I call it. My dad worked for a large oil company as an aviation fuels marketing manager, and the job gave him liberal use of a 1959 Beech Twin Engine Bonanza for business and personal trips. He was based in Boston in the early ‘60s, and transferred to Illinois when I was 2.

IMG_1358Planes had entered his life long before I had. When he joined the Navy in 1942, he first flew a Stearman he dubbed “the Yellow Peril.” It was his first Navy trainer as he learned to become a flight instructor. Then he flew an SNJ trainer, and finally, an SBD Dauntless. He left the Navy in 1945 when he got married and later told me he wished he had stayed in.

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I am the smallest one here. 

So the Twin Bonanza wasn’t a leap when it “arrived.” He knew planes. While my mother was carrying me in 1962 and into the summer of 1963, I was in that Bonanza going to Wisconsin to visit relatives. This didn’t abate when I arrived. I have a photo of my family in front of it. My dad stands tall and thin, aviator glasses over his blue eyes and his hands on his hips, looking very much like a pilot (all seriousness). The family stood to his left: my auburn haired mother, a kerchief on her head; my sister, tall and blond also in a kerchief; my oldest brother John, in the same glasses and displaying the same pose as my dad; my 5-year-old, dark haired second brother, in overalls; and then a tiny blond girl in overalls that (horrors!) matched her brother’s (2-year-old me).

My fascination for planes — their noise, their lines, the very concept of being that high in the sky — continued unabated into adulthood. But I kept my distance in a way. I wasn’t remotely interested in learning to fly. I have an overdeveloped sense of balance, and my ears and stomach would not allow it. I settled into finding out which ones flew when, the difference between a turbo prop and a jet, how a jet worked. I recognized their sounds when they flew overhead, wanting to be able to identify them in the sky.

When my dad passed away in 2005, I knew I was missing some pieces of his history. I didn’t have regrets, really, just one more day with him, knowing in advance that it was the last one. That is when I would’ve have picked his brain more, and written things down. Instead, I’ve settled for learning more about his aircraft experiences through my older siblings and my mother. (And these conversations generally include large amounts of Wild Turkey and laughter).

So when the opportunity arose to see one of the only, still flying, SBD Dauntlesses at the Planes of Fame Chino Air Show in California, I knew I had to go. My  then fiancé, an aerospace engineer by training, a World War II buff by hobby, found my plane (and car, but I digress) fascination unusual. The fact that I had completely lost track of time in the Seattle Air Museum when he and I had gone there, and honestly, was not ready to leave when he was, bordered on the downright weird.

If asked to explain why airplanes were such a big deal to me, I could never do it. Perhaps, like my green eyes, it’s genetic. All I know is it has always been there. Always will be. A plane going overhead will stop me in my tracks, as my eyes seek it, wanting the catalog in my head to determine its type: 737, 747, 767, Beech, Airbus, Learjet, Citation, King Air, Cessna. I recognize engine types when I hear them.  I even liked the names: the simplicity of the numerical varieties made some sort of weird Soduku sense to my otherwise mathematically-challenged brain.

We got to the airshow and parked in the middle of a dark brown farm field scattered with nearly white pieces of hay. The earth had been mashed down and slightly watered to contain the dust as SUVs, cars, and trucks bounced over the uneven terrain to park. The hot sun was tempered a bit by a fairly stiff breeze. An introvert to a fault, I am overwhelmed by crowds at times. (When I go to the mall, I go directly to the store I need and leave, I never wander). But on that day, I simply didn’t notice all the other people. my fiance’s son and a good friend of his were with us.

Initially, we wandered around and looked at the planes parked so that we could get close to them. Then my fiance looked down at me, and asked me where I wanted to go. “I want to find it,” I said simply. He took my hand and led me down the wide aisles, winding through the accumulating crowd. I kept my head down, focused on pavement, suddenly wondering if this had been a bad idea. I seemed to be overcome with emotions I had forgotten. I missed my dad in a new way: I wanted him there to tell me about that plane. About places, times. I wanted to hear his sarcasm, his laugh, his repetitive stories. Just once more.

“There she is,” he said, coming to a halt. I took a deep breath, held it, and looked up. Sitting there, 20 feet behind a metal gate, among Helldivers and Spitfires, its nose to me, was the dark-blue, propellered, dive-bomber with the Navy insignia that I knew from photos on my parents’ walls. I let the air out of my lungs. “You’re awfully quiet,” he said, watching me, as I observed the show volunteers remove the chock blocks from behind the plane’s gear. I could only nod from behind my dark glasses. The pilot jumped up onto the wing and climbed inside the front cockpit as I watched. The engine started up noisily, blue smoke coming out from it in protest. The prop rotated slowly once, then twice, until the motor caught. The gear started to move, and as the plane turned to head for the runway, I let out a gasp when the side of it presented itself to me revealing the number 39.

I slid my sunglasses up off my eyes to turn back and look up at him. “The number,” I said quietly, feeling disbelief, total belief, sadness, and delight. “That’s how old my dad was when I was born.”

He smiled. “He’s here again, isn’t he?” he said. I nodded and slid the glasses back down to watch the small, blue dive-bomber lumber down the runway and take off. Its gear went up, and I had to blink several times to fight the tears that welled at the edges of my eyes.

I didn’t want to breathe. Oh he was there.

As I watched the plane turn and climb toward the sun, the poem he loved, “High Flight” by John Magee, went through my head:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue,

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew —

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untresspassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

People wonder whether those who have died can see what is going on “down here.” I can only speak from my experience when I say: Not only do I know this is true, but I also know my dad has had his hands, wishes, and thoughts guiding my life since he passed on in ways he never did when he was alive. And the gap created by his death, while in no way overshadowed, is lessened at times, when he lets me know, in his own way, he’s still got my back.