The Wisdom of an Old Friend

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.” – Harold George

When I was 18, I transferred to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida for my sophomore year in college. Autism was not even on my radar at that point. I just knew that after a life of feeling like I didn’t fit in, I now felt even more out of place. All these people seemed rich, entitled, conservative, and disgustingly sure of themselves. I felt like a message in a bottle, floating in an overly-entitled ocean with no hope of ever being read.

I have never made friends easily, and that proved to be true at Flagler as well. But friends did come along eventually, and I have many memories that I cherish to this very day. I may never have done anything with any of my degrees, but I still maintain that college was a very important and precious part of my life.

One of my dearest friends was Harold George. He was positive and energetic. He was a force of nature. Trying to keep up with him was like chasing after a dust devil in the desert. Normally I’m put off by such energy, but Harold was charming and kind. He added light to my life. Whenever I saw him, I felt a huge sense of relief. Someone cared.

We graduated before the internet age, before cell phones and social media. The only way to keep in touch was through snail mail, really, and how many people did that? Because of this, most of my college friends drifted away over time, and that included Harold. But I thought of him often.

Fast forward 18 years. I was standing in line to see presidential candidate John Kerry give a campaign speech in Jacksonville, Florida. The line was moving very slowly because they hadn’t provided enough metal detectors for the crowd that showed up on that day. I was lost in thought, trying not to go nuts with boredom. And then I heard someone talking, about 10 feet behind me in line. I immediately knew it was Harold. I couldn’t believe it.

It was so wonderful catching up with him after all those years! We exchanged email addresses. This was about 7 years before Facebook was accessible to the general public, so reconnecting was practically a miracle. At the time he told me that in college he had been inspired to be more politically active because of me. I was stunned that I had made that type of impression, or in fact any impression at all, back then. I was quiet, isolated, chronically depressed, and would have sworn I didn’t even cast a shadow.

Over the years, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the man that Harold became. He stayed in St. Augustine, had the job of my dreams, and he made a loving home with his husband. He also slowed down just enough to reveal his more contemplative side. Now that we’re Facebook friends, I have had the pleasure of reading his posts, which show how observant he is about the human condition. He genuinely cares about people and is finally learning to care about himself, too.

I recently asked Harold to do a guest post on this blog, and I’m grateful that he agreed to do so, because what follows has taught me much about Harold that I did not know in our college days. Maybe I wasn’t the only one there whose childhood undermined all confidence. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had been bullied and raised in chaos. I would have found that comforting. Maybe we unconsciously picked up on that in each other and that’s why we formed a bond.

But I will say this. Harold, you deserve all the good things. I, too, am grateful that you hung in there. Bon Voyage, my friend. Send me a postcard or two along the way.

Without further ado, here’s Harold.

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.” – Harold George

These words wandered through my mind while washing the dishes, one morning a few weeks ago. My husband and I had been chatting about our plans for our dream vacation that we had booked, and how to fill the time until the trip. As most people do, we have done a lot of planning, shopping for items that we need for the trip, and spending a lot of time discussing what we hope to experience on this holiday.

More than a couple of times I joked about not getting sick or having any accidents in the time until we depart for our vacation. Unfortunately, these jokes were part of a deeper issue, my anxiety about not getting to fully enjoy something I had hoped for over many years.

Epiphanies are often experienced in a more noteworthy way than clearing up the breakfast dishes, but that morning it seemed like a kind voice in my head was helping me accept that I may in fact deserve to enjoy this trip, and that it might very well be all I hoped it to be.

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”

I grew up in a stormy household with multiple cases of addiction, and parents who argued as frequently as most people breathe. My mother had a lot of regret about many things and would often uses phrases like “Of course it was broken, I can’t have anything nice.” I remember the day she discovered that someone had broken her treasured Bone China teapot, and she spoke as if the universe had specifically targeted her with this signal of deserved unhappiness. As the Sondheim song goes “Careful the things you say, Children will listen.”

As someone who adored his mother, I found myself trying to be her cheerleader from a very young age. I think I made some pretty strong decisions for a young person in that context, not realizing perhaps I wasn’t being fair to myself. Kids can be amazing when faced with challenges; never doubt their strength.

Coupling my sort of home life with years of bullying at school, and I found myself struggling for many years to feel good about much of anything. However, I found a way get through it, went to college, had a great job for 35 years, and recently retired.

During the second week of retirement, I remember thinking to myself how irresponsible I felt, not having any task or specific role that might benefit the world at large. Apparently working for 35 years as a public servant leaves you feeling irresponsible when you have some time off.

Was it really alright to enjoy myself doing nothing? Did I really get here, after all this time, to feel so strange about reaping the rewards of work and perseverance? Am I going to disappear now because I have no specific job that defines me, no role that will keep me in the minds of friends, family, and community members? I was experiencing an anxiety that felt too much like something I knew in my early 20s when I had no idea where I was going to go in life. So, these feelings show up again?

“Bad things do not have to happen because they have happened.”

Carrie Fisher, when discussing the challenges of mental health issues, addiction, and growing up in Hollywood, would often mention how some of the same things she dealt with over the years no longer held their power at later stages of life. She would use the phrase “location, location, location”—and this made sense to me.

Time is an amazing storyteller and guide for learning and growing, and most of all, for building faith on the foundation of the strengths you exhibited when you had no idea you were strong. You always have a chance to reframe your personal narrative, and to move above and beyond. It’s not always easy, but you are the driver.

Yesterday we finally received our passports in the mail, and it was very exciting for us. This morning over coffee, I was savoring a quiet moment of feeling good about something I had wanted to do for a long time. It’s about to finally happen.

I found myself thinking about my 12-year-old self, dreaming of traveling to escape that not-so-great time in life. That guy always seemed to have hope and find a way to dream of better days. I felt myself compelled to thank that young kid for hanging in there, for surviving until the tide did turn, as it often does. To that 12-year-old, I say thank you for getting me here to this moment, I am so grateful to you. You can rest now.

Harold, age 4, with his grandmother.

Read any good books lately? Try mine!


Manufactured Hysteria

People who encourage fear and hatred and incite violence make up the vilest portion of the lunatic fringe

I apologize if my blog causes you some emotional whiplash today, dear reader. In my last post I wrote about Mr. Rogers and the importance of liking people just the way they are. Today I’m going to the opposite extreme, because I’m disgusted.

I just read an NPR article entitled, “In Florida, far-right groups look to seize the moment”. The hateful imagery drew me in. It was of a swastika intertwined with a cross, and it was projected on the side of a building that I know all too well. It is one of the skyscrapers in Jacksonville, Florida, a city I lived in and struggled to free myself from for 28 years. Just when I thought I couldn’t be more grateful for leaving that place, something like this crops up.

It seems that a white nationalist hate group has taken to projecting its disgusting messages on buildings with a laser projector so they can be seen from miles around. This story would have me outraged no matter where it was taking place, but it really hit home for me because one of the photographs in this article shows one of the drawbridges I used to work on in the background. If I were still there, I’d have had a front row seat for these odious messages, whether I liked it or not.

I absolutely refuse to use those images in this blog post. If you want to see them, you can go to the source article. I also refuse to utter this group’s name, because that’s what they want, isn’t it? They want to normalize hate imagery, and recruit more gullible, stupid young white males to their cause. Not today. Not on this blog.

By investing in a laser projector, these pathetic individuals can pretend that their message is more mainstream than it actually is. The truth is that this 40-foot-tall abomination was being projected by 3 or 4 pathetically misinformed young men in masks. They were huddled in some back alley while they played with their expensive little toy. They posted a lookout and were prepared to run away like the mangy curs that they are if they saw any sign of law enforcement approaching. That’s proof positive that they know that what they’re doing is wrong.

Advertisers of more benign products would kill for this type of exposure. No doubt thousands of people saw this crap on the night in question. I bet those boys were dancing with glee.

It seems that they like to project a variety of messages. They are flagrant antisemites, and they seem to be suffering from some sort of homosexual panic, given their targeting of LGBTQ+ people, and especially, at the moment, drag queens. Their white supremacist, pro-nazi agenda is sickening to witness, and it appalls me that so many young men, who could otherwise be a much-needed force for good, will instead get sucked in to this warped agenda.

I was surprised to learn that the City of Jacksonville has an ordinance the makes it illegal to project images onto a building without the owner’s consent. Unless that city has changed drastically from when I was fortunate enough to leave it in 2014, its city council, along with its law enforcement agencies, demonstrate by their behavior that they have that same racist agenda. I suspect these back alley slime balls won’t get caught because no one employed by the city really wants them to get caught. I also suspect that the only reason the ordinance passed was that the big corporations who own these buildings and work hard to maintain their brands were screaming bloody murder. (It’s a sad day when I side with corporations.)

Unfortunately, even if Jacksonville decided to enforce this ordinance, it probably wouldn’t stand up in court. As this article explains, hate speech only stops being free speech when it causes specific, imminent, and serious harm, like a genuine threat that causes fear in a specific group and it makes this group believe it will be subject to violence.

Sadly, in this country, it seems that hate speech is okay if there’s not an immediate call to action involved. If this group were stupid enough to project, “Let’s kill all the (fill in the blank) TODAY!” they might be in trouble. But statements like, “Drag Queens want to indoctrinate your children!”? No problem. With such a dramatic platform, this tiny little group with its tiny little minds will find ways to carry on and gain new members who actually believe in conspiracy theories and race wars and stupidity in general.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less whether hate speech is free speech or not. ANY speech which causes a targeted group to not feel safe enough to peacefully walk through the world is not okay. The yardstick should be, “Does this speech or imagery cause legitimate fear in an individual or group?” Swastikas do that. The sign below does not. It’s that simple.

I’m quite sure that Florida is a relatively safe place for hate groups to do their recruiting, since Governor DeSantis has been known to espouse this type of rhetoric himself. He has managed to get books pulled out of elementary schools if there’s even a hint of perceived scandal or the tiniest shred of diversity in them. He promotes the conspiracy theory that critical race theory is taught to minors (it isn’t and never has been.) Like these groups, he’s all about manufactured hysteria because the actual truth, that people who encourage fear and hatred and incite violence make up the vilest portion of the lunatic fringe, would never gain them any followers.

Hate is kind of like leprosy. It causes portions of society to wither and fall away. Hate groups may think they’re getting what they want when this happens, but in the end, the system as a whole is diminished because of it. It becomes deformed and ineffective. It’s not healthy.

Upon hearing this story, I immediately thought of Club Metro, a gay club that was located just a few short blocks from the home I used to own in Jacksonville. I went to a few drag shows there, and imagine this: I did not see any young minds being warped during these events! Metro had a welcoming, all-inclusive adult atmosphere, and I enjoyed my visits. It was one of the few LGBTQ+ venues in a city full of people who are forced to remain closeted most of the time for their own safety.

I wondered how Metro was faring under the increased atmosphere of hate since 2016. I was not surprised to find that it has closed its doors. An article from 2021 said that they weren’t able to survive the pandemic. Instead, drive in movies were being shown in the parking lot, and they hoped to move the club to a smaller venue.

We may be acting like the pandemic has slacked off, but the hate certainly hasn’t, and I’m sure that played an unspoken part in Metro’s demise as well. An article from early 2022 said that the original location is now a self-storage facility, and the club’s website no longer exists.

That news made me want to cry. There are enough soulless self-storage facilities in this country. What we really need are more hate-free zones. I was thrilled to see that the nearby Boot Rack Saloon is still going strong, but the place was so tiny that I doubt it was able to pick up the Metro slack. According to an out of date LGBTQ+ travel guide for Jacksonville that I found during my lazy hetero internet search, it is one of the few gay bars left in a city with nearly 1 million people.

Pathetic. I’m glad I no longer have to immerse myself in the fetid pool that is Jacksonville, Florida. I might have caught something incurable.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!

Meet the Homeless of Seattle

Everyone has their own story.

When I first moved to the Seattle area in the Summer of 2014, I was shocked by the sprawling, garbage-strewn homeless encampments that I saw beside the highway and under the bridges. I had never seen so many homeless people in my entire life. They were, and still are, everywhere in this city.

I kept asking myself why it was so extreme here as compared to Jacksonville, Florida, where I had lived for 30 years. I mean, let’s face it. The weather here is pretty horrible for most of the year. When I see people huddling in makeshift tents in this cold, damp, unforgiving climate, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. In Florida, on the other hand, you can survive in a tent. As a matter of fact, I did so for what seemed like an endless portion of my childhood.

The general population would love for homelessness to be a simple problem that would come with a simple solution. But there are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people. Society wants to think that all homeless people are either schizophrenics or drug addicts who have brought their problems on themselves. They want to believe that they remain homeless due to a lack of ambition or an inherent laziness. People justify avoiding the beggars on the street corners by assuming that they are all either scammers or part of the criminal element, and that every one of them is out on the lunatic fringe and therefore potentially violent. Or worse yet, they are illegal immigrants that our politicians have convinced us are a disease-laden, dangerous scourge.

I have a theory that the vast majority of Seattleites are skirting on the edge of homelessness whether they care to admit it or not. The cost of living here is outrageous. According to, it’s currently 35.7% higher than the national average. Granted, it’s cheaper to live here than it is in San Francisco, New York, or Washington DC, but that’s setting the bar rather high. The average mortgage payment in this town, according to this article, is $3014 per month. The median rent for a one bedroom apartment, according to this article, is $1850 per month, and you can anticipate a 24% increase in rent from one year to the next.

Suffice it to say that it takes a heck of a lot of money to keep a roof over your head in this town, and it takes even more money to plan for all contingencies. If you’re laid off because of the pandemic, you can sink into poverty almost instantly. If you have a catastrophic health condition that causes you to be unable to work, you are screwed. If a natural disaster strikes, or one of your family’s breadwinners unexpectedly dies, what then? The safety net in Seattle is much further away from your tightrope than it is in other communities, and the net is full of holes. Don’t even think about falling. You could very easily find yourself on the pavement along with so many others.

People in Seattle are getting so used to seeing homeless people that they barely even blink anymore. Yes, everyone says that “something has to be done” about them, and every now and then the city will sweep through a camp and throw away everything within it, leaving the people tentless and without even a change of clothing, but that’s quite obviously not a viable or humane solution.

There are no affordable housing options, and not enough hospital beds. The drug rehabilitation facilities are few and far between, and even when you can get in, their success rates are as abysmal as they are everywhere else in the country. There are a lot of high paying jobs here, but you have to be highly educated and trained in a very specific niche to get one, and now with the pandemic, everyone seems to be downsizing, and these plum positions are becoming harder to obtain. Expect to be faced with a lot of competition.

Another factor that makes Seattle’s homeless more evident than Jacksonville’s is that, crammed between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as it is, Seattle is densely populated. There’s no room for expansion, and there are very few places for the homeless to “hide”. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is a large, sprawling berg where the cost of living is 7.4% below the national average, and there are plenty of open fields and forests.

That, and Jacksonville is very hostile to its homeless. The police have been known to drive them to the county line and dump them off there to walk the 20 miles in the blistering heat that it takes to reach civilization again. They also trash the encampments with annoying frequency, and they make sure all the park benches have arm rests every foot or so to prevent people from lying down. Even so, I’m now hearing from friends that homeless camps are increasing even there, and that makes me really sad.

Bottom line, though, is that all these people may not have homes, but they are fellow human beings, each with their own story. So many of us try to ignore them or avoid them that we tend to dehumanize them. That’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon the “You Know Me Now” website. Visit that site to hear some very poignant stories as told by the homeless people of Seattle. In the future, there will also be a podcast on this site, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, don’t avert your eyes. Look at your fellow humans. From the privacy of your warm, dry home, read their stories. If the 1 percent continue to refuse to allow people to have living wages, there will always be plenty of stories to read. Here’s hoping your story or mine will never need to be told there.

Stay safe. Get vaccinated. You can enjoy my book while you wait in line.

A Seven Year Reassessment

Sometimes I’m astounded that this is my life.

Seven years ago in August, I decided my entire life needed a do-over, so I packed up my two dogs and the rest of my stuff and moved 3100 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle, Washington. I had never been here before. I knew no one. I was 49 years old, and had absolutely no idea what the future held for me. I only knew that my present was dismal and I couldn’t imagine that any change could possibly make it any worse.

Fortunately I did have a job waiting for me on the other end, because the prospect of homelessness held no appeal. I also had a rental house, which I’d only seen in pictures. But other than those two solid-ish things, I felt as though I were jumping into an abyss.

During the 5 days that I drove across the country, I spent much of the time asking myself if I had lost my mind. One of my cousins (who knows me not at all) accused me of running away. I preferred to think of it as running toward, because what I was leaving behind was nothing of value, except for a few really close friends with whom I knew I’d keep in touch. My future in Florida was of me running on the same desperate, depressing hamster wheel I had been running on for the past 40 years. It had gotten me nowhere.

So, with equal parts trepidation, excitement, and hope, I approached the Emerald City, wondering what adventures it held in store for me. The not knowing was the scariest part. The not knowing was also the most exciting part.

I don’t think I realized what a culture shock I was about to experience. Seattle still feels like a foreign country to me to this day, although I’d like to think I’ve learned the language somewhat, as well as the lay of the land. Now I feel like an established expat. Back then, I felt like an alien from outer space.

I had to get used to driving on hills. I had to learn to dress appropriately for the seasons. I had to figure out which grocery stores to shop in, and while a lot of the products were identical, they had different brand names.

The first two years were particularly hard. I spent most of the time just going from work to home and back again, with occasional solo outings to explore the city. I was so lonely it was physically painful. My skin felt like it would atrophy due to lack of touch. That, and the supervisor of my bridge was a full-blown psychopath. Administration knew it and no one did anything about it. I was clearly in it alone. Work was hell, and at home I had nothing better to do than stew about work. Many’s the night that I cried and said to myself, “My God, what have I done?”

But throughout that dark period of adjustment, little glimmers of light kept creeping in. I loved the exotic sounds of morning birdsong, which was nothing like the birdsong on the east coast. I loved the changes in season. I loved the lack of bugs and the absence of oppressive, soul-sucking, sticky heat. I loved the flowers and the fruit and the neighborhood in which I lived. I loved the views from the bridges in which I worked. And I adored the paychecks. Union strong!

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re in your 50’s. People my age usually have established friendships and set routines. That, and the general vibe out here is very reserved. People also seem to be a lot less reliable. I got stood up a lot. I still do. That takes some getting used to.

But I discovered I had some really cool neighbors, and I picked up friends here and there. It was such a relief being able to count on the fact that most people here had my politics. In Florida I felt like a liberal turd in a republican punch bowl.

I joined a few groups and took a class or two. I even tried internet dating, but that was an unmitigated disaster. (I can laugh about that now, but it wasn’t so funny at the time.)

Little by little, day by day, I built myself a life. The psychopath retired. I published a book. I bought myself a house. I found myself someone to love. And now things are so good that they hardly seem real. Some mornings I wake up and I’m astounded that this is my life.

The other day I had a party. I invited 4 friends over to paint rocks and do crafts. We sat on my patio, my favorite room in the house, and laughed and hugged and commiserated and talked about reality TV and insulted anti-vaxxers and ate guacamole. We also talked about what an amazing husband and home I have.

At one point, and I hope nobody noticed, I got tears in my eyes. Happy tears. It’s just that my life has come so far in the past seven years. There were times I would have despaired of ever having a get together like this. It all felt so completely out of reach.

And yet, here I am, feeling the serenity and painting solid, colorful rocks to prove it. It was all worth it. Life is good and the future is bright. What a difference seven years makes.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book!

Artistic Utility

A brilliant way to beautify an ugly grey box.

When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, there used to be a rogue artist who would paint the utility boxes in my neighborhood. Everyone that I talked to absolutely loved this art. It was a brilliant way to beautify an otherwise ugly, grey box. But the city council absolutely hated it, to the point where they would have the art removed as quickly as possible, and I believe the artist was actually faced with legal consequences.

Jacksonville was an extremely conservative city at the time. (Not so much anymore, it seems. They voted blue in the presidential elections! Woo hoo!) They considered art to be very controversial. Oh, sure, the confederate statuary was just fine and dandy, but do not produce art that’s open to interpretation. Heavens no! Anarchy might ensue! So Jacksonville’s public art used to be thin on the ground. I was not at all upset to move west.

When I moved to Seattle in 2014, I was thrilled to discover that the art on utility boxes is actually part of a beautification project. Now I look forward to seeing what the various artists will come up with. I love that those dull grey boxes were viewed as an opportunity, not a scandal.

Since then, I’ve seen decorated utility boxes everywhere that I travel. It’s a delight, seeing how varied they are. It brings me joy. It’s like going to a museum from the safety of my car.

What follows are pictures of artistic utility boxes that are either in my neighborhood or the pictures were sent to me by Pokemon Go friends from around the world. Enjoy the creative freedom!

In the interests of full disclosure, most, if not all of the confederate statues in Jacksonville have been removed since I left, and good riddance. I was also told by a friend who lives there that they don’t decorate their utility boxes because it has something to do with the leasing of equipment from vendors. I have no idea. I just can’t imagine they couldn’t find a workaround for this when so many other cities do.

Claim your copy of A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude today and you’ll be supporting StoryCorps too!

My Most Memorable Year

You just never know what’s in store for you.

On my way to work the other day, I was thinking about the fact that, ten years from now, if people are asked what their most memorable year has been, a good percentage of them are going to say 2020. That’s heartbreaking, because this year SUCKS. I’m sure most of the memories from this year won’t be happy ones. I’ll be happy to get past this year and move on, no matter what that looks like. I think that’s the scariest bit. We have no idea what the world is going to be like after this year.

Fortunately, 2020 is not my most memorable year to date. If I had to pick one, it would be 2014, because it was overflowing with the really, really bad, but ended up really, really good. It was the most pivotal year of my life.

For starters, in 2014 I went to visit my favorite aunt, Betty, in Connecticut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her face to face. I wish you could have known her. She was amazing.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I got a phone call from the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office telling me that they found my boyfriend dead in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot a few short blocks from my apartment. Upon hearing that, I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a thing for three days, which made flying home in tears quite fun. It felt like I was ground zero at a nuclear blast, such was the devastation this caused in my life.

There was a huge family conflict over whether or not I should attend his memorial service (thank God I ignored them and went), and the taking of all his possessions (and a few of mine) by his adult children. Other than that, I really don’t remember much about those next few months, except a lot of tears, forgetting to eat, and a constant ringing in my ears. I did go to work, though. I had to. Fortunately, there can be tears in bridgetending.

Not long after that, my landlord, who lived in the other half of the house, figured out that I’d probably not be able to make the rent without my boyfriend’s assistance, and she kicked me and my two dogs out of my apartment with no notice at all. I was too devastated at the time to fight it.

Fortunately I had a place to store my stuff, but I got to experience a brief stint of homelessness there. Nothing quite like sleeping with two dogs in a crapped out Buick LeSabre to make you appreciate all the comforts of home. Then I did a bit of couch surfing and realized who my friends really were.

Finally, I found a place to rent that I could just barely afford. I hunkered down in anticipation of an existence in which I would be all alone, working a dead end job, and living paycheck to paycheck. I was resigned to my fate.

I was talking to a coworker about just that when he mentioned that there was a job opening for a bridge operator in the City of Seattle. I had never been to Seattle. I had never even been to the state of Washington in my life. I didn’t know anyone there. But man, was I ever due for a do-over. My life was going nowhere fast and I was miserable. So what the hell, I applied. What did I have to lose?

And, what the hell? They hired me. Sight unseen. Over the phone. Just like that.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to move across the continent. Fortunately, my sister and my husband not only loaned me money, but they gave me a more viable van. And for the rest, I dipped into what little savings I had, and also did a crowdfunding campaign.

That campaign was amazing and humbling. Not only did friends from decades ago come out of the woodwork, but also total strangers gave me money. Without all that generosity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of that, I do my best to pay it forward every chance I get.

House hunting from a distance is not at all fun, but somehow everything fell into place (including the breaking of a lease I had only signed 2 months before) and the next thing I knew, I was driving across the country with two dogs and entirely too much stuff.

The cross country trip was amazing. (Read more about it here.) You have no idea how vast this nation is until you drive 3100 miles across it. It’s magical. I will never forget that experience.

And then, on this very day (August 24th) in 2014, I arrived in Seattle. I was scared half to death, and second guessing myself the entire time, but I was also extremely excited for this fresh start. And my life has been, despite a few false starts, an ever-increasing high ever since.

Because I came here, I’m actually making a living wage for the first time in my life. Because I came here, I published my first book. Because I came here, I bought a wonderful little house. Because I came here, I met my amazing husband-to-be and was married for the first (and only) time ever.

No one at my wedding had known me more than a year or two. That kind of smarted. But, as a dear friend says, onward and upward and into the future!

I’ve met some wonderful people here and have had too many exciting experiences to list. (You may want to check out the archives of my blog for that.) And I’m happy to say that I feel as though I’ve made an excellent life for myself.

So, yeah, 2014 beats 2020 all to hell. And because of that, life is ever so good, and I am exactly where I want to be. You just never know what’s in store for you. Truly, what a ride…

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book!


What Makes Home?

It’s a dense topic.

The other day, I was settling down for an afternoon nap. My dog Quagmire was curled up beside me, and I could hear my husband doing something or other on the opposite side of the house. The sounds of home. How lucky am I?

I do feel at home in my home, thank goodness, and with my husband and my dogs, and at work… but to be honest, I still don’t feel at home in the Pacific Northwest, even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years. People confuse me out here. I don’t understand them. And the weather is strange. And I still don’t know my way around. When people talk about small towns in another part of the state, I don’t know where they are. All these things make me feel like an outcast.

So the question is, what makes home? What follows are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. (Special thanks to Cris, Ray, and Martin for ideas.) It’s a dense topic. And, spoiler alert, I don’t think I’ve managed to fully define it, but here goes…

Home is familiarity. It’s knowing where everything is, and also knowing alternate routes to that place. I think GPS has punked me in this regard. I no longer have a full map in my head. I don’t know where places are in relationship to other places anymore.

To help me with this, my husband has hung a local map in the garage for me. It has made a difference. But I really need to stop being lazy by relying on a mechanical voice to get me to my destination. I need to get some sense of context.

Home is also being able to make your way around in the dark without stubbing your toe.

But it’s not just familiarity, because I knew my way around Jacksonville, Florida, and there was a sense of relief there, a sense of predictability, but I don’t miss it, and if I never go back again it wouldn’t upset me overmuch. I miss my friends, I miss the fried chicken, I miss bodies of water that are warm enough to swim in, and I miss a few other places, but I don’t miss the city at all.

Home is what you’re used to. I’m used to flat land and straight roads that are on a grid pattern. If that’s what I need to feel at home, I’ll never feel that way in the curvy, hilly, mountainous state of Washington.

Home is knowing what neighborhoods you can walk through after dark. Back to familiarity again. But maybe there’s a feeling of safety wrapped up in it.

It’s recognizing the priorities, the politics, and the culture of the place where you are. Is it where everyone shares your politics? If so, we’re all screwed these days. But I must say I feel a lot more politically at ease in Seattle than I ever did in Florida.

Home is knowing the history of your location. I’m working on that.

Home is what makes you feel normal. It’s what you expect. I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt completely normal.

What is so un-homelike about where one is living that so many people are willing to leave everything they’ve ever known and relocate to another part of the planet? What’s missing? Why do they think they’ll find it elsewhere?

Do nomads ever feel at home? Is home where your yurt is? Does home reside in the people you love? I’m loved out here. And I’m at home in my house. But then I drive away from it, and I’m back to feeling like I’m in a foreign country again.

Is it a sense of belonging? Is it being made to feel welcome? Is it having a restaurant where you can say, “I’ll have the regular,” and they know what you mean? Is it being worthy of the gossip of your neighbors? (God, I hope not.)

I always felt at home in Western North Carolina. Even the very first time I stepped foot in the area when I was 17. Whenever I am there, it feels like I can exhale. Like I can breathe. The mountains embrace me. I can sleep, knowing the crickets and fire flies mean me no harm. But why? Why that place?

If all you ever knew was prison, would you consider that home? Is home where you’re resigned to your fate?

How can one person’s home be someone else’s hell?

Home is a feeling, more than a place. Because you can feel at home in more than one place.

Is it an emotion? It’s not happiness. Because you can be sad at home. Is it contentment? Contentment is fleeting for me, albeit highly appreciated when it comes around.

And I think home takes time. I never feel at home at first. I can’t even sleep the first night in a hotel room. But jeez, how much time does it take?

The craziest thing about home is that everyone will have a different definition of what that is.

I know it’s more than the house you live in. It’s your community, your region, your environment, your loved ones. It’s the place where you’re accepted as you are. It the place you can find your way back to.

Home is your comfort zone. But what causes you to feel like you’re in that zone?

I love to travel, but I can never 100 percent relax while I’m doing it, and after a few weeks, I want to go home. Home is where you can rest. I can’t completely rest here. And I want to be able to. So I need to figure out what makes home for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear reader.


Home is where you can curl up with a good book. Like this one:

People Have to Live Somewhere

It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem.

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

Check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times.

10 day album challenge #2: Leo Kottke, Greenhouse

Leo Kottke, in my opinion, is the most talented fingerpicking acoustic guitar player in the world.

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!


I had the distinct privilege of seeing Leo Kottke in concert several years ago at the Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. (And incidentally, the opening act was Leon Redbone. What a night!) Up until then, I’d never heard of Leo. I had no idea how deprived I had been.

This is a man who has been putting out albums since 1969, and yet he keeps a pretty low profile. When I mention his name to people, more often than not, they’ve never heard of him. Oh, but they should. Leo Kottke, in my opinion, is the most talented fingerpicking acoustic guitar player in the world.

Whenever I hear one of his songs, I have to pick my jaw up off the floor. The sounds that this man creates with his fingers should not be humanly possible. He is a cut above anyone else out there.

By the time I got to see him, he had already had severe tendon issues, major hearing loss, and his hands were nearly unrecognizable from the ravages of arthritis, and yet he still was without peer. I knew I was in the presence of musical genius, and I was in awe.

It’s really hard to choose one album to highlight when you are talking about Leo Kottke. But this is an album challenge, so I’m choosing Greenhouse. If you are so self-loathing that you only allow yourself to listen to one Leo Kottke song, I’d suggest Bean Time from that album. If you aren’t completely amazed once you realize that this sound comes from one man on one guitar, you have no soul.

I’m hoping to see him in concert again at the end of this year, so watch this space! And see him while you can! He’s 72!

Leo Kottke Greenhouse

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!

Another View

May your life be full of beautiful views that remind you how truly fortunate you are to be alive, dear reader!

Sometimes I just need a blog break. So I’ll share with you one of my favorite drawbridge views, this one taken years ago when I worked at the Main Street Bridge in Jacksonville, Florida. Experiencing it moved me to tears.

May your life be full of beautiful views that remind you how truly fortunate you are to be alive, dear reader!

sunset bridge

Start a gratitude practice today. Read my book.