Signs of Hope

It’s helpful to know that the valleys of your life moved you forward on your journey every bit as much as the peaks did.

We all have good days and bad days. It’s not realistic to expect that our lives will be sunshine and lollipops every waking moment. Not only isn’t it realistic, but it sets you up for failure, because sooner or later, a certain amount of sh*t is bound to hit your personal fan. It’s the nature of things.

The nice thing about getting older is that you start to realize that you have gotten past a fair share of your allotted fan soilage. It is therefore safe to conclude that you will do so again. I find that just comforting enough to hang on during those hard times.

I find it particularly challenging to keep on the sunny side of life when we’re halfway through winter, and everything around me is grey and dead and clammy and unpleasant, and there’s no end in sight. It’s disheartening when you go weeks on end without ever seeing the sun. Thank heavens for SAD lights! They’re like a candle in the window that leads me back to levelheadedness. I’ll take all the help I can get.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, those subtle portents that indicate that things may just be getting better are often all it takes to give me the strength I need to soldier on. So rather than putting my head down and wallowing in my sadness, I try to seek out those portents. It could be the smile on the face of someone I love. It could be that cute way that toddlers walk with such intention and determination. Maybe it’s waking up to find my dog’s head resting on my shoulder.

I also find that the hard times I’ve survived make me appreciate the good times even more. It’s difficult to take something for granted when you can look back and see all the peaks and valleys that you’ve traversed in your life. And it’s helpful to know that those valleys moved you forward on your journey every bit as much as the peaks did. Good times are headed your way. That’s something to think about on a cold, sunless winter’s day.

I’ll leave you with a portent: on my way down my driveway today, I noticed the first flowers of the season blooming in my garden. (I actually wrote this post back on February 22nd, mind you, on a day when yet another light snow was forecast, so it was startling.) I’m attaching a picture of the portentous posy below.

Spring is coming. It’s only a matter of time. We’ve got this!

Namaste, dear reader.

I wrote a book that is chock full o’ positive portents, and you can own it! How cool is that?


Have You Ever Bletted a Medlar? Me Neither.

Never forego the opportunity to add new words to your vocabulary. Doing so is especially gratifying if they refer to something so foreign to your experience as to seem otherworldly. If you can throw in a little bit of potty humor for good measure, then so much the better, as far as I’m concerned.

I came across the terms “bletted” and “medlar” in a roundabout way. Repressed adolescent that I am, I must confess that what really drew me in was a less title-worthy term for the medlar, which is “open-arse”. It seems that this was the name more commonly used for this fruit for 900 years. In other places, the medlar was called “monkey’s bottom” or “donkey’s bottom” or “dog’s bottom”. That’s all understandable, given what a medlar looks like.

Those names hardly make me want to rush out and try what was considered a delicacy in medieval Europe and is still popular today in countries near the Caspian Sea where it originates. But what intrigues me the most about this fruit is that it was once so popular, and it has such funny nicknames, that you’d think we’d have at least heard of it in the modern era, but I am willing to bet that 99 Americans and Europeans out of 100 never have. It was certainly news to me.

So how did the medlar drop off our radar? Well, for starters, it’s not an easy fruit to eat. You might even say it goes against your instincts. That’s where bletting comes in.

This is a Mediterranean fruit, and there it can be plucked and eaten right off the tree. But if you try to do so from a tree in a European climate, you wouldn’t like it, and you might even regret it. It could make you violently ill. Still, the tree itself is rather pretty in autumn. It’s green, yellow, brown, and blood red.

But the fruit? First of all, it doesn’t give off a “come hither” vibe, does it?. I’d be afraid it was poisonous if I didn’t know better. And oddly enough, you don’t harvest it until mid-November or December, when you’d much rather be inside by a warm fire, and when the fruit is still hard as a rock. Once harvested, you then put the fruit in a crate of sawdust or straw, or put them on racks with a lot of ventilation, in a cool, dark place, and forget about them for a few weeks until they start to rot.

Yes, I said rot. That’s what’s known as the bletting process. Medlars will look brown and squishy and feel kind of grainy at this stage, but they’ll also be extremely sweet. At that point you can eat the inner flesh right away, or you can use it as a colorfully sweet contrast to your cheese course. You can also make it into jelly, chutney, brandy, cider, or as a filling for tarts.

In medieval Europe, medlars were one of the only sources of sugar to be had in the wintertime, and they were therefore highly prized by many, even if some found them to be an acquired taste. They’re mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as well as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Medlars probably sank into obscurity because tropical fruits such as pineapples and bananas became cheaper and more accessible after World War II, and you could get them year-round. Why bother harvesting a fruit in the frigid dead of winter that then had to bletted, taking up space for weeks, when you could run down to the corner shop and buy alternative winter sugar sources, no muss, no fuss?

Medlars could teach us much about how fickle fame can be. It makes me wonder what things loom large today that will be forgotten about entirely in 80 years. That adds a whole new layer of complexity to the concept of time travel.

“Wait. What? You’ve never heard of Kalamata olives? That’s it. I’m going back to 2023.”


Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Bridge Woman

Everyone deserves a place where they feel safe.

As you prepare to eat a nice warm meal on this Thanksgiving day (provided you’re are able to overlook the disturbing colonial overtones of this holiday), and whether you’re spending the day with family or friends or all alone, I hope that you remember to count your blessings, dear reader. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions about your circumstances, but the fact that you have access to the internet tells me that, like me, you’re a lot better off than many people are.

I’d like to tell you about someone who doesn’t have it as good as we do. As I write this, she’s sorting through garbage in a ditch, not 20 yards from where I sit. Perspective.

Here at work, I spend a great deal of time watching the comings and goings of the people who cross my drawbridge. After doing this for a while, I began to spot patterns. I’ve learned people’s routines. I’ve created backstories about them in my head, which, admittedly, are quite likely inaccurate, but it helps me feel a certain kinship with these people, even though they probably don’t even know I exist.

In the past month or so, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of someone that I’ll call “Bridge Woman”. I considered calling her “Drainage Ditch Woman”, but that seems undignified.  And she needs all the dignity she can get.

I suspect that this woman is mentally ill and/or homeless. She spends hours on the bridge approaches, sitting on the curb that separates the sidewalk from the bike lane. She is completely engrossed in the detritus that flows down the drainage ditch. It’s as if she is panning for gold. She doesn’t even look up when someone goes past.

She sorts through the gunk, sifting out little bits of God-knows-what, and puts those things in what she deems to be their proper place. Some things are placed on the sidewalk, some on the curb, and apparently some things don’t pass muster and are returned to the ditch. I’ve tried to figure out her method of categorization, but I’ve yet to succeed.

She doesn’t do anyone any harm, and it is, after all, a public sidewalk, and she’s far enough away from the part of the bridge that moves to be safe, so I let her be. And I’m painfully aware that her odds of continuing to “be” are a lot higher when she sits on this bridge and quietly organizes away. Here, she’s relatively safe. No one hassles her. No one influences her or takes advantage of her vulnerability. If anyone tries to hurt her, there are witnesses. I strongly suspect that these things can’t be said about the rest of her days or nights.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, women comprise only 29 percent of the homeless individuals (as opposed to families) in this country. This means they’re greatly outnumbered in most places. Women who are unsheltered have a much higher risk of premature death, mainly due to mental health and chronic health issues. And, “The rates of victimization and assault, including robbery, physical abuse, and sexual assault are much higher for women than men.”

An article entitled, “Rates of violence against the homeless are worse than you think” spells it out in upsetting detail. It also contains a link to a comprehensive report entitled, “Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness which details stats from 2016-2017.”

Here are some of the statistics from the article and that report that jumped out at me:

  • Life expectancy for someone who is homeless is 20-30 years less than the general population.
  • About 13,000 American homeless people die on the streets each year.
  • 1 in 3 homeless people have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence, including having things thrown at them. Some are urinated on, intimidated or threatened, or verbally abused or harassed.
  • While 1-3% of the general youth population report sexual assault, 21-42% of homeless youth have reported sexual assault. 1 in 3 teens are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of living on the street.
  • 1 in 3 homeless youth engage in survival sex.
  • The experience of violence in the lives of homeless women: A research report, showed that 78.3% of homeless women in the study had been subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking. Those who experience such assault while homeless also lack access to legal, medical and mental health services, which can worsen the post traumatic effects of the experience.
  • The report also briefly focused on Seattle, my city, by saying, “many cities do not often provide free public restrooms that are easily accessible. For example, Seattle, which has the third-largest homeless population in the U.S, only had one functional 24-hour restroom, downtown, as of 2015.”

Homelessness is a rough life for anyone, but it’s even more so for women. So when I see Bridge Woman organizing garbage in the ditch, oddly enough I’m happy she’s there. Yes, I would like much more for her, but given the current state of the world, I think that that ditch is probably a safer place than many of her current societal alternatives. It makes me sad, but I genuinely believe that it’s true.

As winter approaches, and the cold, raw, Seattle weather settles in for the duration, I worry about Bridge Woman. I’m relieved to see that she now has warm clothing and good shoes, and she looks clean enough that she would blend in with the general population if only she were not so focused on the task at hand. I assume that she has been in contact with someone who cares, at least, either personally or professionally.

I hope her situation improves even more.

It probably won’t.

When the ditch is flooded with icy water, she may not enjoy her project quite as much. She’ll most likely choose to pass her time elsewhere. I hope that she continues to find safe places, ideally places that are warm and dry, where she won’t be hassled, even if it’s only for a few hours a day.

Gazing out the window at her, I count my blessings and think that she deserves better. I wonder if people understand how much we have let this woman down, or if they think she gets more than she’s entitled to. I have no idea what she wants or what she can get. I hope she is loved.

At a bare minimum, I’d like to think that all but the most cold-hearted among us can agree that everyone deserves a place where they feel safe. I’m glad my bridge has provided her with that kind of respite, if only for a short time.

I hope, dear reader, that like me, you use this holiday to give thanks for all that is good in your life, rather than thinking back, with pride, on the wholesale theft of this continent and all the bloodshed that was required to rip it from the hands of the people who were already here. If so, then Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude should not require a holiday. But if you’re giving added focus to it on this day, please consider ordering my book, Notes on Gratitude. And happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m so glad you’re here!

The Girl and the Hat

Giving the gift of warmth.

Years ago, a girl was given a hat. While the giver meant well, it was the ugliest hat the girl had ever seen. She knew she’d never wear it, but, having been taught to be polite, she sincerely thanked the giver for his kindness.

This was long before the girl realized that it was okay not to keep a gift if she really didn’t like it (provided she was subtle and tactful in its disposal or re-gifting). So the girl relegated it to the top shelf of her closet. When she moved across the country, it was stuffed into a box, and it traveled with her from state to state until both girl and hat reached their destination.

We humans spend entirely too much time clinging to unwanted things. They weigh us down. They slow us down.

There’s no need to describe the hat in question, because ugly for one person may not be ugly for another. Know this: It was well-made. It was warm. Beyond that, it is probably best if you just imagine your version of the world’s most unappealing hat.

The packing box that housed the hat joined several others that the girl never quite got around to unpacking. This was a collection of things she didn’t really need or want, but that she hesitated to part with. This sad hat was just one more element in a pile of useless guilt clutter that we all seem to carry around with us so as not to hurt people’s feelings.

Years went by. During that time, the girl was going through several emotional growth spurts, and was beginning to view the world through a different lens. Having finally clawed her way out of desperate poverty, she became more aware of her good fortune and unearned privilege, even as she bore witness to the unmet needs of others at every turn.

The girl came to realize that if something in your life can languish in a box for years, then all it’s doing is taking up space. She was surrounded by useless stuff. But this stuff didn’t have to be useless. None of this stuff asked to take on the role of the albatross around her neck. It began to feel as though she were holding these things hostage, or preventing them from realizing their full potential. It was time to set them free.

When the hat finally returned to the light of day, the girl discovered that it wasn’t really that ugly. It was just not her style. Not even a little bit.

The hat was in excellent shape, and surely someone out there would love to have it. With winter rapidly approaching, and so many people desperately trying to keep warm while living on the streets, the hoarding of this hat began to feel like a criminal act to her.

Several dozen homeless people passed by her office every night. She watched that parade of desperation and, due to her inaction, felt complicit in a world too cruel and selfish to face up to its own yawning privation. So, one bitterly cold evening, she took the hat to work. The girl pinned a sign to the hat which said, “Free to anyone in need. Stay warm!”

She folded the hat neatly and placed it on a clean and sheltered curb in front of her office door. She felt as though she were sending her only child off to college. It was an odd sensation.

“Live your best life,” she told the hat by way of farewell, and then she returned to her nice warm office and set to work.

Between tasks, she wondered what would become of the hat. She hoped it would go to someone whose need for warmth was particularly acute. She wondered if she’d see it some day on the head of one of the many marchers in the desperation parade. This hat might be destined to save someone’s life.

But its legacy might be more humble. Perhaps it would simply go to a scholarship student who needed a little warmth while walking back to the dormitory. Maybe the hat would worm itself into the student’s quirky little heart on the way. There would be no shame in that, either.

What if no one took it? She worried about that. How sad it would be to leave work at the end of the shift, only to discover that the hat had languished there for 8 hours, waiting for its life to begin. It would have been rejected, again and again, by the various passersby. That would be a fate worse than being shut away and neglected for years.

But the girl needn’t have worried. When she left work, she was pleased to find that the hat was gone. She would never know the rest of the story, just as we can never know what happens to any of the people or things that we set free.

She sent well wishes skyward, hoping they might accompany the hat on its new journey. She knew she couldn’t change the entire world, but at least one person would not be quite as cold on this night. The hat was gift of warmth and comfort for someone who was out in the cold. That was a start.

Whether that warmth and comfort lasted for more than an evening was not for her to decide. She wanted to think that it would last a season or a lifetime. But in the end, that would be up to the hat and its wearer.

Stay warm and well, Dear Reader. Winter is coming. Please share any hats and coats and gloves that you don’t need with the wider world.

Nope. This isn’t the actual girl or the actual hat.

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Coming Out of Darkness

Hang in there, baby! Spring is coming!

I suspect I’ll never get used to winters in Seattle, after having spent the bulk of my life in Jacksonville, Florida. As of this writing, the sun in Seattle is finally setting after 5 pm again, and that is reason enough for a celebration. In the summer, we get 16 hours of daylight, but in the depths of winter, we’re forced to make do with 8 ½ hours, and that takes its toll on one’s psyche. (And yet I probably sound like a whiny b**** to all the Alaskans out there.)

In the winter here, I feel like I’m holding my breath, keeping my head down, and just trying to make it through to sunnier times again. There’s just something wrong with going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. By right about now, I’ve usually pretty much had it with darkness. My patience gets about as short as the days are. So seeing sun after 5 pm gives me hope. I say to myself, “Hang in there, baby! Spring is coming! Eventually you’ll get to pack away your SAD light for the season! And your winter clothing! And your windshield frost blocker!”

In Jacksonville, there is only about 4 hours of difference in the amount of daylight from summer to winter. Anyone should be able to cope with that. But I still don’t miss the blistering heat or the politics, so I’ll choose Seattle every time, even if this city does require various accessories and a certain strength of will to muddle through the dark times.

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

There’s a Hair Freezing Contest? Sign Me Up!

Take THAT, boredom!

My life is officially complete. While wandering aimlessly through cyberspace on the day of this writing, I came across this CNN article, along with some really amazing photographs. You really should check it out.

It seems that deep in Canada’s Yukon, so remote that it’s 18 miles North of Whitehorse, which is already as remote as most people ever dream of getting, there is a place called Takhini Hot Pools. They must have the most talented Public Relations person on earth, because they came up with a Hair Freezing Contest. It would definitely take something this outlandish to get me to patronize this place, and now it’s on my bucket list.

Winners of this contest’s various categories get $2000 (Canadian, it’s safe to assume, because you can’t have everything), plus free soaks at the hot springs and a 12 punch pass (as if I’m going way up there 12 times.) Still, I bet this contest has increased patronage quite a bit.

For this frigid hairstyle to work, you have to visit the pool on a day when the air is at least as cold as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrrrr. The pools themselves are around 104 degrees Fahrenheit, so once you take the plunge and completely wet your hair, you just stick your head above the waterline and wait for it to freeze. Even your eyebrows and lashes will freeze. It looks pretty amazing.

The sad news is that this business is currently closed. It’s a combination of the pandemic, and the fact that they’re building a new and improved facility, which will be called Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs. They claim it’s coming soon, but they haven’t yet provided a specific date, and I’m sure COVID has thrown construction off schedule. But I have high hopes that this contest will be back up and running in some future winter. Something to look forward to.

I love how creative we humans can be. It seems that the more isolated we are, the more imaginative we become. Take that, boredom! This very human quality gives me great hope for society moving forward.

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book!

Let There Be Peace on Earth

The harshness of winter can bring out the best in us.

Knowing that I needed to write a post for Christmas Eve, I settled on the topic of Peace on Earth. An elusive yet very desirable goal. Not that Christmas really has anything to do with that. A lot of war and acts of hatred have been committed in the name of religion.

Of course, there are a lot of feel-good stories out there, too. What always springs to mind for me is the one about the Brits and the Germans coming out of their foxholes and singing Christmas carols across No Man’s Land during World War I. That was in 1914, more than 100 years ago, and there hasn’t been such a holiday ceasefire in a time of war since then. High ranking officers don’t allow such things anymore. Which goes to show that if left to their own devices, free from the propaganda of the 1 percent, regular people can usually find common ground. We just need to stop prioritizing the goals of the 1 percent.

This time of year does seem to bring out a bit more goodwill and generosity of spirit and love for one’s fellow man, regardless of our holiday traditions or religious beliefs. I suspect this was the case long before organized religion took hold. Winter is a harsh time of year. It’s not a time of abundance. It’s dark. It’s cold. It is a time to hunker down and try to survive with what you have stored up, and if you want your community to survive along with you (which would be in everyone’s best interest), you need to share.

I genuinely believe that the most inhospitable, stark, severe times in our lives will either bring out the very best or the very worst in us. The very best allows societies to survive and even thrive, while the very worst eventually spells disaster for everyone concerned.

I like the idea that it is the best of us who are more evolutionarily successful. It may not be evident during the brief blip on the historical radar that constitutes the average human lifespan, but I have to hold this belief deep within me or I’ll start to wonder what the point of life really is. And that’s not a rabbit hole that I care to run down, even in the warmest, sunniest of times.

I think we need the darkness of winter to “harsh our mellow.” We need to feel cold in order to want everyone to be warm. So, to quote a song, “Hello darkness, my old friend.

Interestingly enough, the Institute for Economics and Peace seems to bear my theory out, because it has named Iceland as the most peaceful country on earth for 14 years running, and according to Wikipedia, the temperature doesn’t usually get above 55 degrees Fahrenheit during the warmest months of the year, so you can just imagine what the winters are like.

The institute bases its ranking on three criteria: social safety and security, extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict, and degree of militarization. (Incidentally, did you know that America has only been at peace for 21 of its 245 years? When I read this article, I was horrified.)

According to this article about the 2021 peace rankings, “Icelanders can sleep well at night: they live in the most peaceful country in the world. No news is good news when it comes to tranquil Iceland: it is the fourteenth year in a row that it retains the number one spot, this year even improving its score by 0.27%. With no standing army, navy or air force and the smallest population of any NATO member state (about 365,000 people), Iceland also enjoys record-low crime rates, an enviable education and welfare system, and ranks among the best nations in terms of jobs and earnings and subjective sense of wellbeing.”

Because I know you’re going to ask, the United States ranked 122nd this year, due in part to its increasing civil unrest and political polarization. In my opinion, morale in this country is at an all-time low. And the US House of Representatives recently passed a $768 billion defense policy bill. Billion with a B. Such are our priorities.

Statistics bear out the fact that peace results in happiness, income growth, foreign investment, and political stability. What’s not to love? We tend to talk of peace on earth as if it were an unobtainable goal. But I actually see it as the only way we will survive.

So light a candle. Sing a song. Throw nothing but snowballs.

I wish you peace, dear reader, regardless of the season, and I leave you with a photo of Iceland to show you what that can look like. Happy holidays to you. Stay warm.

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

Off We Go in Search of Snow

Happy winter to you!

Dear husband asked me what I would like for my birthday a few days ago. We already have too much stuff. We both prefer experiences. So I asked for snow.

Obviously, he couldn’t conjure up snow out of thin air, and hiring a snow machine seemed a little over the top, and wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the real thing. Instead, we elected to do another one of my favorite things: ROAD TRIP!!!! So off we went, in search of snow.

Fortunately, the area in which we live, Seattle, doesn’t get much snow. It sees maybe 3 or 4 days of it a year, if that. That suits me. As an adult, snow is less about sledding and snow angels and snowball fights, and more about horrific commutes, shoveling, and outrageous heating bills. No thank you.

But another beautiful feature of this area is that there’s snow nearby. We headed for Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range, to the little town of Alpental. And as you’ll see from my photos, the trip there was breathtaking, with its snow covered trees, frozen waterfalls, and fog.

I was a little shocked, upon arrival, to see the logjam of cars on the road, waiting to park for the ski lifts. This area is known for both downhill skiing and cross country. We saw lots of sledding off the roadside, and snowboarding, and snowball fights, too. But not a single mask. We didn’t get out of the car. We didn’t even park. We love our lives too much.

I can’t believe how selfish people are. As long as they have fun, they don’t mind putting other people’s lives at risk. How clueless can you be? Wear a mask, folks!

But I did want to touch snow at least once, so we pulled over on a deserted back road, and I decided to have DH film me throwing a snowball at the car. I’m walking gingerly because the roadside was a sheet of ice. And this was about take number 4, because I kept missing the dang windshield. Hence, the chuckle at the end.

Anyway, happy winter to you!

Stay home where it’s safe and warm and read my book!

The Dark of December

The sun’s indifference and neglect in winter is very hard to take.

We are approaching Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It falls on December 21st, and when it finally arrives, I always feel like I’m coming up for air for the first time in months. It’s as if I’ve been walking through J.R.R. Tolkein’s Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and just as I am about to give up hope, I see light in the distance. I’m halfway there. I can do this.

If I can survive the fact that, here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun that day won’t come up until 7:54 am and will be back down at 4:20 pm, I can survive anything. I view that as a triumph.

And after that day, I have slightly longer days to look forward to. More room to breathe. Less time in front of my SAD light. Less time to feel sad. More hope.

I definitely feel an emotional difference with the seasons. It’s hard to take, being plunged into ever-increasing gloom, and having no real control over it. We are all enslaved by the sun, and its indifference and neglect in winter is a bit of a challenge. It’s hard not to take it personally.

But Spring is coming. Glorious, glorious spring! Enduring the dark winter makes me appreciate the rest of the year all the more.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s a life raft in the dark. All we have to do is hold on. Light will soon return.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Hereford

On a Dark Trail

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Leavenworth Revisited

It’s amazing how the tenor of a trip changes with its participants.

It seems as though every state has an historic and/or heavily themed, touristy albeit delightful little town. St. Augustine, Florida. Helen, Georgia. Solvang, California. Williamsburg, Virginia. Leavenworth, Washington. I love visiting these places, but only infrequently. Too often, and it starts to feel like overindulging at a buffet. It seems like a great idea, until you do it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Leavenworth, Washington for the second time. I wrote about my first visit, and reading back I can tell how lonely I was that time around. This time I got to go with my husband. It’s amazing how the tenor of a trip changes with its participants. I had fun in 2015, without a doubt. But I really loved it this time.

The whole Bavarian-themed town was decked out for Christmas, and I must say, they do a phenomenal job of it. I truly felt as though I was walking in a winter wonderland. And of course, there are dozens of shops that are ready and willing to prey upon one’s holiday spirit.

We spent a lot of time searching for the ideal ornament to commemorate our first Christmas together. (I’ve written about this tradition of mine before.) After about 8 stores, we finally found the perfect one: A blown glass heart made from the ash of Mount St. Helens. We both have certainly risen from figurative ashes, and we’re all about the love these days. Just right.

We also bought a copper leaf, as we enjoy the colored leaves of autumn. That will have pride of place against our dark purple wall in the living room. Autumn all year round. (The shop that makes these had entire wreaths of them, too, and they were tempting, but we really are trying not to accumulate too much stuff.)

It was fun exploring all the tiny little shops. It was like Diagon Alley without the wizardry. (I have to say, though, I could never work in one of these places. They probably listen to Christmas music for three months at a stretch. That would drive me insane.)

The absolute highlight of the visit was our dinner at the Watershed Café. That deserved a post all its own, so I wrote about it a few days ago. So good. So very, very good.

After that, we wandered around the town square, taking in the holiday lights. What color! And mind you, this was before their official Christmas Tree Lighting. I can’t imagine how they could possibly top what they already have done.

That night we stayed in the Blackbird Lodge. Like the rest of downtown, it is faithful to the Bavarian theme, but it’s not over the top. It’s very tasteful and cozy. We even had a lovely little fireplace in our room. And the views were spectacular. I absolutely loved the place. (My only complaint would be their complimentary breakfast. It was make it yourself waffles and coffee. That’s it. That’s all. No OJ. No milk. No cereal. No bagels. Nothing. And there was only one waffle iron, and since each waffle takes 2 ½ minutes, quite the line was formed. Come on, guys, you can do better than that.)

The next morning we walked in the park along the river. The mountain views are spectacular. It reminded me of my first trip there. Then, I was walking my dogs and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This time, I was holding the hand of the best human being I know, and realizing just how lucky I am. Quite the upgrade, indeed.

Without further ado, here are some photos from our trip.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!