Just Life

I hurt. Am I boring you?

I took a writing workshop once where the teacher made us go around the room and say what we were afraid of writing about. It was an unexpected - and jarring - question. I don't even remember what I answered. I do remember, though, that whatever I said wasn't my real answer. The real answer would have been that I was terrified to write about my weight. But I couldn't even bring myself to say that out loud. Today, the answer would be different. It wouldn't be, as some might guess, my recovery from alcoholism. Hell, anyone who knows me knows I'll shout about that baby from the rooftops. No qualms whatsoever. Not even a residual modicum of shame.

No, today I'd have to say that the thing I'm most afraid of writing about is my life in pain.

Not the emotional kind. Like almost everyone i know, I've had my fair share and I can write about it with my eyes closed. What I'm afraid of writing about is my physical pain, the chronic pain I live with. Only, I keep hearing this little voice telling me that I need to write about it. So I've been thinking that I probably need to figure out how to write about it in a way that won't - as I fear - annoy the hell out of people.

I am currently involved in a long-term relationship with pain. I wouldn't call it a domestic partnership - more like an arranged marriage. I feel like I've got pain's number and yet I'm still  thrown when it does exactly what I expect. Somehow, we're making it work. There is no choice. This is a condition without a cure and without a really effective treatment.

Many of you may already know my story but, for those who don't, please indulge me. It all started about 16 years ago, when I was rear-ended twice within a year. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean my car was rear-ended twice.) Neither incident, by the way, was my fault. I am only a little surprised that I still feel it necessary to point that out lo these many years later.

I suffered whiplash and some serious damage to my left trapezius muscle, which is this large kite-shaped beauty that spans your upper back, reaching across your shoulder blades and into your neck. (Whiplash, by the way, is not nearly as funny as they make it look on sitcoms.) Unlike most people who suffer these injuries, I did not get better over time. My pain grew. It spread. I was baffling modern science. I'm just that interesting!

Eventually, I was diagnosed by my very ahead-of-the-times doc as having fibromyalgia. This was 1996, and only about  three people had even heard of fibromyalgia. Including my doctor and me. Ever since, the pain and attendant set of unpleasant symptoms have been among the most central and overwhelming factors in my life. This doesn't begin to make me even remotely unique - anyone with chronic pain'll sing you the same song.

I'm not trying to be dramatic when I say that I cannot remember - or imagine - what it is like to be pain free. My pain presents mainly in my neck and shoulders and it operates in shades of grey. I can't predict with any certainty when it'll be better or worse. It makes planning one's life a tad difficult. I'm the queen of canceling at the last minute. Some people get it. Others, understandably, don't.

I haven't been able to sleep without an ice pack on the left side of my neck for 15 years. Sometimes the pain migrates into my limbs, making it difficult to lift my arms above my head or climb a flight of stairs. Occasionally, the arches of my feet feel like they're being pried away from the rest of my body. Add to that the cruel exhaustion-with-insomnia, the charm of irritable bowel syndrome,the embarrassment of a compromised memory - and it's all just a bit too effing much.

At times I feel as though I've reached the point where I cannot possibly deal with it any more. (And what exactly does that mean? THERE IS NO CHOICE.) I hear friends share their tales of woe and I think, "I'd trade with you in heartbeat just to know what it was like to be pain-free for an hour." Sometimes the self-pity overwhelms me and other times I err far too far on the other side of that coin - insisting to everyone around me that I'm fine! I'm great! until I've run myself into the ground.

Which sort of touches on why I'm afraid of writing about it. I'm clearly far more addled than I like to admit when it comes to Caring What Other People Think About Me. And I'm afraid that people will think it's boooooooooooooooring to read about someone's pain. But I'm reaching a point in my life when I don't know how to talk about myself, to be honest about who I am, without talking about my pain.

So I'm trying to figure this out. Trying to find a way to write about it that might be something, anything more than just annoying - maybe that could even be a teensy bit helpful to someone else. I don't know how to do it, but I seem to be on a self-punishing tear of trying to write things I don't know to write.

Might as well give this some more thought. I'm sure you'll let me know how I'm doing. If you're still awake.


Hello? Is this thing even on?

Pssst. Hey. It's me. From a few years ago. I'm thinking about trying to turn over the engine on this blog to see if she still runs. I keep waking up in the night lately thinking that I miss blogging. How weird is that?

When I blogged here back in the good ol' days - before abandoning ship for that wacky year-long change experiment - I was pretty new to Ann Arbor. Exploring the town gave me things to write about, especially in the early days. Until I ran out of things to write about.

I think this go-around will be different. More "life," less "northern town."Some stuff about my trying to learn how to take photos. Some adventures in cooking and baking. Some travel. Some navel-gazing. Okay, probably a fair amount of navel-gazing.

I suspect I'll probably be writing a lot, too, about recovery stuff, especially since that's the subject matter of my novel I'm struggling to finish. I know that's not always comfortable and/or interesting for people to read about. That's okay. I get that. And I forgive you.

Damn, I'm magnanimous.

Now I just have to go off, deal with some dough that's rising* and decide what to write about first.

*Not metaphorical. If I meant that as a metaphor, I'd probably have to insist you stop reading for your own sake.

A new blog

So it appears the hiatus from this blog is turning a little bit more permanent, at least for now. The truth is, I'm just not finding the impetus to write here. It feels too amorphous to me and I figure if it's boring me to write it, it's DEFINITELY boring you to read it. However. I do miss the writing practice, only I figured I could use a little more help in terms of structure, focus and deadlines. So to tickle my own fancy, I've started a new blog here. I'm hoping I'll use it to chronicle changes weekly leading up to -- and perhaps beyond -- my 40th birthday in November of this year. I have no idea if this little experiment will pan out or not, but I figured it's worth a shot. I hope you'll find it somewhat entertaining. And if you don't, I hope you'll let me know. No, really.

Also, on an administrative note, I'm trying to figure out a way to copy my commenter user registrations over to the new blog, but so far no success. If you're driven to comment, you may need to re-register. Thanks!


I think I've decided to take a hiatus from this blog. I know what you're thinking: "How could we tell? You never post here anyway." That's sort of my point. No, that's precisely my point.

I started this blog four years ago when Chris and I first came to Ann Arbor. I've chronicled friends, family, travels, projects, photos and what seems like countless other things one encounters when discovering a new place and building a new life.

But lately? I just haven't been feeling it. Writing here looms over me like an albatross. I feel all this pressure to come up with interesting stuff and it's not forthcoming. Maybe it's because I'm already suffering writer's block while trying to take a stab at the second draft of this novel-wannabe I'm crafting. Maybe I don't feel like the little writing energy I have is best spent here. Maybe I've just run out of things to say.

I believe a blog should be a couple of things: purposeful and regularly updated. I'm 0 for 2 on that count right now. I don't think it should feel like a chore and it does. So I'm going to take a break for the next couple of months and reassess in January. I'm not sure how many of you are still out there reading but perhaps if you think of it, you'll check back here then to see if I've reappeared. In the meantime, thanks to the friends and family who have "stopped by" here from time to time the past few years to see what's up.

One of the projects I'm going to undertake in the next couple of months is -- finally! -- the rebuilding of the writing samples portion of my site. So look for that coming soon, too!

For Margaret, on the occasion of it being fall and all

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Oh, Margaret. Dear Margaret. How I'm thinking of you and the horrible poisons they're pushing through your veins in order to stem an even bigger, horribler affliction. How little you ask for when you hint, very heavily, in your comments that only my blog postings can keep you in good health. What power I have. How important I am.

Thus, for you, this rambling posting, even when there isn't much to tell. Except this: it's fall. It's FALL! My very favorite season. And not the fall it has been, with grey skies and rain for days and weeks and weeks. No, this has been the sunny fall I love, the kind where you slush around in piles of leaves on Sunday walks, everything tinged yellow and orange and red.

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The kind where Orangey and I head out for what we know will be one of our last rides of the season. But we try not to talk about it, Orangey and I, pretending instead that there are endless days like this ahead of us. That we will always be able to comment at the spooky pumpkin on this doorstep or the peach-colored Maple leaves on that street. Sure, you could call it denial but Orangey and I, we're calling it "living in the moment."

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Sometimes on walks or ride, there are strange things to see. A lonely, beat up recliner at a street corner, in full chillaxin' position, like maybe someone's invisible Grandpa's trying to get some shut eye. Or a poster of beer bottles in a scratched acrylic frame with a sign saying "Free." (And still, no takers? NO TAKERS?) Or this, a box of books, textbooks and novels in Spanish, curious enough to make me think that this might be here for a reason, just for me to find, so that I will finally, finally have the incentive to improve my Spanish.

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And then I decided: nah.

Oh! What about this table? This crazy wooden table that sits at the front edge of someone's yard, under a tree, with this little locked box on top and nearly DRIVES ME TO DISTRACTION wondering what on earth is in there...

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Then, coming home, in my very own yard, this beautiful leaf. Which I felt a little sorry for, what with it lying there all by itself, separated from all the other leaves. Only, really, you can only feel so sorry for something so good looking. Just ask Jan Brady.

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So how about that? In a week when there hasn't been too terribly much else to tell, I hope that counts for something, Margaret. Just until I can think up something else.

The Orangecycle Diaries: Because Margaret asked edition

Yesterday, my friend Margaret posted a comment requesting more updates on the bike riding and, yes, that's enough to propel me into action. People undergoing chemo can be so demanding! The first piece of news is that Daisy is no more. No, don't panic! Not the bike. Just the name. I don't know how it happened. Maybe it'll still say Daisy on her birth certificate, but Chris kept referring to her as "Orangey" and another friend or two asked about "Orangey" and I realized that somehow it just seemed more...fitting. Maybe because she's all orange and whatnot. I'm very scientific like that.

The second piece of news is that I have become an almost daily bike rider, although I am writing this after three whole days of non-riding. (Two I blame on a family visit and one on today's lousy rain.) The third piece of information I wish to impart -- and I refer to this not as "news" because it most certainly won't surprise anyone -- I'm still not particularly good at it.

The fibromyalgia continues to be a humbling factor in it all. I find my leg strength wildly inconsistent, so one day I feel like I could go for miles (until my ass cries otherwise) and other days a perfunctory ride around the neighborhood is the very best I can do and I have to ease up even small inclines at the lowest of gears.

That said, progress is still being made. While I can't always feel it during a bike ride, I can feel it at other times -- my knee no longer hurts nearly as much when I'm hoisting myself out of the bath tub or rising off the couch after a dormant spell. I can feel it at yoga, when my legs can hold the lunges just a little bit longer.

How I feel it most, though, isn't physical. At the risk of sounding pretty darn cheesy, it's in how it feels just to be that sort of free, unencumbered, moving through space and still feeling so much a part of your surroundings. Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but I predict this whole "bicycle" concept could really catch on. Before you know it, kids'll be asking for them for Christmas. You mark my words. Buy your stock now!

I've had a couple of emails from other owners of Electra Townies who came across my blog entries after Googling their brand, so to them I share just a few additional thoughts. I'm still looking for some info about a bike rack that'll fit the Townie. I haven't done much because I'm lazy and highly unfocused but from what I understand, the longer length of the Townie's body and the forward-placement of the wheel means the frame doesn't fit easily into many models. If anyone out there has specific makes or models that'll work, please let me know!

Also, while the jury's still out on whether it's strictly a matter of user error, I'm beginning to see why some people online have complained that the forward pedal placement means the Townie's not great on hills. You can't stand and pedal, which is probably just as well for me right now as I'd likely just fall over. So I'm hoping if I continue to gain strength hills will at least get a little easier. Especially since you can't really go anywhere from my house without hitting one.

Lastly, my butt hurts. Apparently, the Townie's upright seating technology is great for posture, easing the neck, back and shoulder strain that can come from traditional hunched-over cycling form. However, the flip side is that the bulk of your weight is distributed squarely on the seat, not mitigated by balancing some front-body weight on the handlebars. I'm not saying this is a deal-breaker by any means, but I'd be interested at some point down the line to know if a seat with shocks helps at all or if it would just be more fancy window-dressing. Which I am also not opposed to by any means.

So while it rained all day long today, I'm hoping tomorrow's forecast for only intermittent showers means I can at least find a small window just to get back on and, as some of us in the business say, claim my seat. The weather's turning chillier here, fall rolling in, and I couldn't be happier about it. I love the crisp breeze on me as I whiz down the streets, tires crunching through the first fallen leaves. I may only have a couple of months left on Orangey before the cold really takes hold, but I am on it, baby. I'm on it!

The Orangecycle Diaries: Uh, more days

It seems that God -- or whoever is in charge of the universe this week -- felt I had gotten a little uppity about my bike ("It's so pretty! It's so cool! I'm a better person than you are!") and arranged for a couple days of rain this past weekend. Because I'm pretty sure that's what a higher power does: sits around dreaming up ways of putting me in my place. Thus, my dream of taking Daisy to one of our finer metro parks to see what she's made of did not become a reality. It's possible this could happen another time, but I prefer to dwell on the finality of it all. Due to the aforementioned weather issues, I've only had a few days riding since I last posted and, to be honest, not much riding in those days, distance- or time-wise. I'd blame it all on my hectic social schedule, but I think we all know that's not the case. Mostly, I just tooled around the neighborhood, and I seem to be mastering one of what I presume to be the key elements of bicycling -- keeping my balance. It seems to me that not falling off is probably a pretty important skill to have and the more I ride, even little jaunts around the 'hood, the less likely it seems that I will lose control of my bike and veer into a parked car. Or a moving car. Or a small child. This is all good progress.

I'm still a little skittish around cars because, it seems to me that all the belly-aching my bikier friends have been doing for years about drivers being boorish and discourteous to riders might actually be true. (If I'd known I'd wind up with a bike one day, I might have listened with greater compassion and an ear towards a solution. Probably not, but maybe.) And I still haven't mastered what feels to me like a Cirque du Soleil-level trick of steering with one paw on the handles so that I can signal my turning intentions to drivers. Thus, I've been known to pass up a turn or two just to keep both hands in play. I'm discovering that a person could get lost this way.

Yesterday, I waited for the rain to stop then caught what I thought was a primo late-afternoon chance to zip around a bit. I will say this: my legs are getting stronger. The hills aren't quite so torturous. And, let's face it, by hills I mean slight inclines. We all know where this story's heading. So when the rain returned, rather suddenly, I learned first hand that one gets considerably wetter on a bike than when driving in a car. I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm just stating facts. In a three-quarter mile distance back to my house, I got soaked to the bone, but I will confess this: it felt kinda awesome.

Two things I learned about cycling in the rain, besides the obvious "getting wet" bit, which I will share with you now:

  1. My brakes squeal in the rain. Is that supposed to happen?
  2. Your pretty bike gets dirty. Dirty!

Today I ventured out for an extremely long and arduous journey. By which I mean about 3.75 miles. WHICH IS A VERY LONG WAY IF YOU ARE SEVERELY OUT OF SHAPE AND GENERALLY LAZY! I probably taxed my knee a little too much, not to mention my legs -- all of which were pretty mad at me already after being dragged out to yoga last night. Apart from the times when I thought my knee would snap in half and my thighs might catch fire, it actually felt good. I went places, man! I went to the CVS (or near it). And Kroger (or near it.) I could have, ostensibly, gotten out and run actual errands if a) I had bought a lock yet and/or b) my basket had arrived and I had any way to carry anything home.

One last observation -- for now, at least: I noticed that people smile at me a lot when I'm riding past them. People on the sidewalk, postal carriers, old ladies driving their cars. Since they don't actually know me, I don't suppose it can simply be chalked up to the irony of my being on a bike in the first place. No, I figure it must be my jaunty orange Townie, spreading love and sunshine everywhere it goes.

Yeah. 'Cause that's so me.

The Orangecycle Diaries: Days 1 & 2

090309-Daisy I strongly recommend not taking a drink for 13 years. Because if you do, it turns out your husband might knock your socks off with perhaps the most awesome present of all time: an Electra Townie Original 7D bicycle in glorious, citrus-y orange pearl. At least that's how it worked for me. (Disclaimer: This may not be true of all husbands.) Please meet my new bike, Daisy.

I should start by noting (somewhat sheepishly) that this is actually the first bicycle I've ever owned. I know how to ride one, thank goodness, and I'm not exactly sure why or how I made it this far in life without ever getting one, but there you have it. Good things do come to those who wait. I have the proof.

Since moving to Ann Arbor, a very bike-y town of exceedingly manageable size, I've been toying with becoming a bike owner, getting something used off Craig's List. From time to time, I browse what's available, realize I don't really know what I'm looking for (or, usually, at) and put it off for another season. Every once in a while, as I drive by one of A2's many, many bike shops, I think about stopping in and asking for help figuring out what I need. But the stores are full of bike-y people and their bike-y knowledge and I get intimidated, so I keep on driving past. Fortunately, I have a husband who is vastly more diligent than I, particularly when it comes to research -- and it seems he has managed to find the absolute perfect bike for someone like me. And not just because it's retro-cool and super-adorable.

Turns out the Townie is also the ideal bike for someone like me -- a novice who doesn't need a fancy racing dealio, a million gears she would never use, and who has a number of physical ailments that often render other bikes an exercise in sheer torture. The Townie's designed with flat-foot technology, meaning your feet can rest comfortably on the ground when stopped, so you don't feel like you're going to fall over. The pedals are placed further forward make for a fuller leg extension (more akin to the recumbent bike at the gym), and that's great for someone (like me) with knee pain . It also features a nifty upright riding position -- as opposed to the hunched-over posture on most regular bikes -- which reduces back, neck and arm fatigue. For someone with chronic pain issues (like moi), this is just dandy.

I got Daisy on Wednesday evening, so I didn't have time to ride around much that day. Mostly in the house, which only served to frighten the cats and didn't give me a real feel for the bike. So I had to wait until Thursday to really take her out for a spin. And by spin, I mean a relatively short 'n shaky tool around our neighborhood which, thankfully, is mostly flat. (However, not nearly as flat as you one might be fooled into thinking whilst driving around.)

Mostly, I found Daisy to be a delight right out of the gate. We had good times, she and I, sailing past cute houses and trying to avoid getting run over by various vehicles and, at one point, a pirate invasion by three young boys who looked to mean business. I did have some trouble on the hills, which was humbling, considering they're not very steep around here. I think part of that is because I was still figuring out what gears I needed when, but also because, you know, I have fibromyalgia and sometimes it feels like my thighs are on fire. There's also a remote possibility that being really out of shape played a role too, but I'm not rushing to conclusions.

In particular, taking the hills even at the lowest gear (or would it be highest? hell, I don't know. It was one. Gear 1!) was causing me a remarkable amount of knee pain. Which didn't seem right, what with all of the hoity-toity design features that went into this bike. I was also a little discouraged that I wasn't instantly able to effortlessly ride for tens of hundreds of miles at a stretch and not feel the least bit of effort. And, in the interest of full disclosure, my butt hurt a bit but not nearly as much as it does on the upright bike at the Y.

All of that aside, oh, how I was thrilled to have an orange bike! I couldn't sleep last night for thinking of all the things I'd need -- a decent lock so I could actually ride it to the gym or to Kroger or into town for coffee, a water bottle cage, a basket or bag for holding crap, a bell. Would I need a light for riding at night? So many questions! Turns out that you have to order some of these accessories directly from Electra as a lot of aftermarket equipment doesn't fit this bike. For example, most water bottle cages don't fit, so you have to order an Electra water cage mount adapter  and then buy a cage to put on that. The mount adapter is $9.99, which isn't that steep, but shipping is the same again, so that's where it starts to look a little annoying.

Anyway, I decided a lock was the first order of business in case I ever made it out of the neighborhood. This morning, I went in search of one at Target, but didn't find any U-Locks, which a couple of people had mentioned was better than the cord kind you can cut through. At the bike store, their U-lock was nearly $50 and I wasn't quite ready to shell that out without doing a little look-see around to find out what's what in the field of bike locks. (It should be noted that this sort of restraint from instant gratification is highly unusual for me.)

So today it was just another day of local explorin' for me and my bike. Before I got on for Daisy: Day II in the 'Hood, I decided to register my bike with Electra. I opened the folder that Chris had given me and, lo and behold, was a manual. Huh. Who'd have thought? The very first thing they suggest is adjusting the seat height, which seems like a sensible thing to do and probably the kind of thing a person who'd previously owned a bike would know. So I adjusted the seat height, then it told me to adjust the stem tilt and handlebar tilt accordingly. Only, it didn't really say how to do those things. It looks like I need a specific kind of hex wrench and even then, I wondered if it wasn't something best left to a professional or, say, anyone who wasn't me. Thus, it seemed to me the most logical approach was to ignore the matter completely and go on about my riding.

The conclusions from Day II's rudimentary spin are as follows:

  1. raising the seat completely took the pressure off my knee on the hills
  2. not adjusting the stem and handlebar tilt means the new seat position makes my back hurt
  3. there's a possibility I may one day become strong enough to make it to Kroger without dying
  4. helmets are no friend of the head sweater

Now I need to talk to some of my more bike-y friends to find out if the new adjustments are something I can do myself or if I need to take it back to the bike store and get help with it. Either way, we're getting there, baby! We're getting there! And once we're there, I'll be everywhere! Watch out!

It's raining, it's pouring

I don't know if the old man is snoring. Who is the old man,anyway? I never stopped to ask myself that. I mean, really. The crap they sing to us as kids and wonder why we end up in therapy. And by "we," I mean "you." Not me. No way. Can you tell it's Friday and rainy and I'm trying to avoid work by rambling inanely about whatever's on my mind? Like pickles. For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about pickles lately. Making my own. I love a good pickle, the garlicky-er and sour-er the better. And when I see cute little trays of baby cukes at the farmer's market, it inspires me. It doesn't actually inspire me to do anything, just to think about doing it.

It speaks to something sort of inherent in me. I'm much more a fan of the idea of doing things than I am the actual doing of things. Pickles seem like the simplest thing, for examples, but then you start reading supply lists and recipes and how you're supposed to boil the jars and seal them for sanitary purposes and it begins to sound akin to prepping a surgical suite. Which isn't really that delicious.

Where am I going with this? No idea. Perhaps an existential reflection on what I am or am not doing with my life, now that Mad Men has started a new season and glum navel-gazing is in vogue. Or, more likely, just a diversion to see how much time I can waste before I have to get back and put in at least a couple good hours editing and rewriting. (Hint: if you are placing money on this, I would strongly suggest betting on the latter.)

Okay. Fine. You win. Back to work it is. Only because it's less hassle than boiling pickle jars.

Onto the rainforest!

w071809-Puerto-Rico-(6) It probably surprises some people that someone as heat-adverse as me would venture to Puerto Rico in summer. Or any time, really. I understand. It surprises me, too. But one of the mitigating factors is that my favorite place in Puerto Rico is El Yunque, the rainforest in the northeastern part of the island. For years now, we've been staying at Casa Cubuy (see Chris & Denise below) , an ecolodge on the edge of the rainforest, located at the very top of the mountain on the non-touristy side. (It's the opposite side from the National Park entrance.) It's generally quite a bit cooler up there than down among mere mortals, even in summer.


People have asked me in the past what there is to do on "our" side of the mountain. The answer is a very calculated "nothing." There are no TVs or phones in the rooms and, until recently, no internet access. (Although on this last trip, service was spotty enough to dissuade us from using it too much.) The reason I go is to plant myself in a chair on the balcony of an upstairs room and stare out at El Yunque, listening to the roar of the waterfall below and the chorus of the coqui frogs, and watching the rain clouds approach and burst open in front of me. Some books get read, a little hiking gets done, especially the easy hike down to the waterfall and swimming hole in Casa Cubuy's backyard.


If you'll forgive the foray into cheesiness, the truth is that I tend to feel at peace and calm in the rainforest. In a way I don't anywhere else. Casa Cubuy is not a luxury resort and, as much as I hate to admit it, has probably seen better days -- although it deserves mention that it's difficult to keep any place rust- and mold-free in that climate. The furniture is simple and mismatched. The sheets and bedding are nothing to write home about. But if you go there knowing that the place is merely a backdrop for the rainforest, then you probably won't mind a bit.



Puerto Rico's native Indians, the Tainos, believed that the peak of El Yunque was where their god of creation, Yuquiyu, dwelled and even today it's not hard to see why. When you watch the rain clouds approach, traveling without rhyme or reason across thousands of acres of rainforest, and open up and release a thunderous burst of rain, it's pretty apparent that something bigger than me is going on. Maybe not Yuquiyu, but something that keeps me feeling right-sized and humbled in the best of ways.


We spent four nights in El Yunque this time around, doing a little hiking, a lot of reading (see if you can spot Denise, reading in a hammock by the waterfall in the photo above), a fair amount of napping. We headed down to Fajardo one evening and took a kayaking trip into the bioluminescent bay. When Chris and I took our trip with the same tour operator a few years ago, it was just us in a two-person kayak and our guide  leading us through a narrow path of mangrove trees to the bay. This time, we were a large group, trying to wind our way in to the bay in an orderly fashion, along with a number of other groups. It was still magnificent when it got dark and our oars starting making bright green trails in the water. Just a little less peaceful and a little more hectic logistically. You should have seen us trying to find our way back out in the pitch dark as new groups were making their way in. Chaos!


It's also relatively easy to get to the beach from where we were perched in El Yunque, and we did spend one afternoon at Luquillo Beach, one of the better public beaches on that side of the island. (Although it doesn't hold a candle to the beaches on the islands of Vieques and, Denise now tells me, Culebra.) Still, we had fun, dipping in the ocean, which was the perfect temperature, hanging with the natives. It takes about 40 minutes from Casa Cubuy to the beach, but much of that is spent winding your way down off the mountain on the narrow pathway you share with chickens, dogs and fearless locals barreling up and down the mountain in their junkers.

And that was that. Five days, four nights, gone in a snap. Too little, too fast. But I think the important thing was a reminder that this is something that's been important to Chris and me over the years. For some reason, it's a place that allows us to reset ourselves and we just haven't been making that a priority. Suffice to say we're already eyeing fares for a return trip in January. By winter they'll be up to about $500 - $700 per person and right now they're hovering at an enticing book-now-or-miss-it $220 from Detroit. I'm just sayin'.

I lied

No posts about Puerto Rico today. My laptop wireless card is ailing and the poor thing's in the hospital, complicating my posting options. So stay tuned! All is not forgotten! My word may still be worth something!

I am not ignoring you

Recently, I asked a very dear friend of mine -- who is suffering from some health issues -- what I could do to help her. She said, "Write something on your damn blog for a change." Which seems to be just the kick in the pants I needed to sheepishly crawl back here and make, at the very least, this good faith post. Secretly, I'd been hoping that my blog would just start updating itself. It seems the least it could do after all these years. I figured it would post some photos from our trip to Puerto Rico last month, maybe fill you in on the progress of the novel (none).

Alas, no. So I suppose I'm going to have to do all that. And I will. Starting with tomorrow, when I will post about our Puerto Rico trip with our good friend Denise. Then you won't be able to stop me! I'll be posting, you know, semi-regularly. Maybe.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Oh, man, it's been a while since I posted -- and it's probably not a great sign that half my posts this year (or so it seems) have been ruminations about how I haven't posted in a while. I know it's not interesting to write, so it can't be interesting to read. If I weren't stubborn, I might just put this blog out of its misery. But I am stubborn and I've invested years in this blog and it's just...it's just that... right now...

I don't know.

I would like to tell you that all my energy is being taken up by volunteering to work with orphans and/or working diligently on the second draft of The Novel. (I still cringe when I write the "n" word. It seems so ... so... ostentatious or something.)

But the truth is, I haven't been doing those things. The first one not at all, and the second very intermittently. It's just that going over the first draft, shyly and scared-ily showing it to people and getting their feedback, is proving a very difficult and trying process. I read whole chapters and just want to cry because it's just...not...there. Or it feels like too much, insurmountable.

I don't know.

I feel like I said that already. Sigh. But I guess my point is (if I even have one) that I'm floating out here somewhere, thinking often of this space, wondering why my brain seems to give me no inspiration to share something wise and witty here. Maybe it'll happen again soon. What I really mean is that I'm here. I'm still here.

Are you?

Knock on wood

I'm not generally a superstitious person. Except when it comes to the power of jinx and when it reinforces my deepest, most paranoid theories of impending doom. I bring this up only because I think I'm sort of in the throes of it right now. I should explain that I've always been a pretty fearful person. I spent much of my childhood, most of my adolescent and a grand chunk of my adulthood with my stomach in a knot, constantly afraid of horrible things happening to me and those around me. I had actually made good progress on my fear and anxiety (sobriety helped not a little) when my mother died in 2003. That seemed to spark my fear and anxiety a thousand-fold. I reeled with the sense of being completely out of control, being unable to stop tragedy. I became absolutely terrified that more of my loved ones were going to die, especially my husband Chris. To the point that I would lie awake at night, watching him, unable to sleep for trying to stem this giant tide of panic that wasn't constantly threatening to undo my world.

I know. Maybe not so healthy.

I don't live in that place of intense, uncontrollable fear anymore, but I get wind of it every once in a while. It pokes at me occasionally, trying to get my attention. Reminding me that all is not safe and stable. Clearly, I'm sort of there now, tonight, which explains this post after a long absence, written late at night.

I wrote here not too long ago about an old friend of mine who died entirely too young and entirely too tragically. I'm not ready for dying friends, just as I wasn't nearly ready for my mother's death. It unsettled me and I've been unable to shake entirely that feeling of insecurity.

A few weeks ago, I learned that my uncle in Scotland has cancer. And today, I discovered that another much-loved friend of mine has also been diagnosed with cancer.  The good news (we hope) is that it has been diagnosed early in each case. The rest is up in the air and I don't know what it will mean for either of them in the scheme of things. I do know that it's scary and it has me very uneasy right now.

A more superstitious person might note that these things tend to come in threes, sending her mind racing, worrying about who's next. A more superstitious person might knock on wood to try to stave off that possibility. A person like me might do it anyway. Just in case.

Something strange

Yesterday, I did something kind of strange. Maybe strange isn't the right word. Maybe it's just more...remarkable. (As in the literal sense: worthy of remarking upon.) What did I do? I finished the first draft of my novel. Don't let me get ahead of myself here: there remains a ton of work ahead. In fact, there are fewer parts of the novel that don't need work than do, if that poorly constructed thought gives you a bit of perspective. (It will probably also give you pause about reading anything I've written, but so be it.)

But it's there -- more than 200 pages (250 book-size pages, give or take). In a row! There's a narrative thread that runs from beginning to end. I know what happens and I know how it happens and it's there on the page. It's a story. A whole story.

Despite how it may sound, I'm not exactly patting myself on the back here. It's just that I'm not sure I really thought I could even get this far. And whadda ya know -- I have. That feels like something.

That counts for something, right?

Eight years ago today...

...I married Chris at the bottom of my parents' garden in Louisville. There were a lot of things about that day that the perfectionist in me would change. All but one string of the fairy lights I'd envisioned strung around the backyard failed. The floating candles for the pool sunk. The small set of steps we built so that I could gracefully navigate the steepest portion of the hill in the yard nearly weren't wide enough for my father and me to descend together. I know now that these are minor details, but it's funny how they're the ones that stick with you. What I wouldn't change, nearly without exception, is everything that has followed for Chris and me. I'm not saying the past eight years have been without difficulty. Obviously, they haven't. We've had a number of changes, moves and transitions. There has been conflict and confusion, but very rarely about us, as opposed to the world around us. We have weathered unbearable sadness when my  mother died just two years into our marriage -- and, yes, that's one of the few things I'd change if I could.

The sum total of it, though, has been good. It has been more than good. It has been an exceptional experience. When you get married, you're so smitten that you imagine the big challenge ahead will be to maintain that level of interest and emotion and passion for the years ahead. What you don't know is that it gets so much better than that. That it gets weird and hard and deeper and more resonant and the attachment and respect and fondness grows so much stronger than you'd ever guessed possible. You fall in and out of love a million times, sometimes in the same day or week, but you always land in a better place. Who knew? I didn't.

I think back to that night eight years ago, when a relatively small group of our friends and family gathered and celebrated and danced the night away. I think of how everyone else's lives have evolved. Two of the people there died suddenly and too young, which seems statistically significant for a gathering of less than 50 people. But -- and here's the beauty part -- there were also two brand new lives there, even though we didn't know it at the time. Both my friend Beth and my sister Jane were pregnant. They have seven-year-olds now. Seven-year-olds!

Among our guests, some relationships lasted and others split apart. Some friendships slipped into the ether. Sadly, I'm no longer in touch with a handful of the people who attended, some of whom drove all the way from St. Louis to be there. So much has happened and so much has changed. We have been loved and supported by our families and friends and we couldn't have done it without you. So I thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart. Eight years. Can you even stand it?