Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five Reasons Why Seattle Is a Writer’s Haven




It’s no accident Seattle is full of writers, and now that I’ve lived here a few months I’ve narrowed down the key reasons.

The weather is sad. Summer is pleasant, with long days and low humidity, but in fall, winter, and early spring the rain, wind and early darkness are like an Adele song, perfect for crafting serious reflection and sad love scenes. The other day I revised a critical moment where Michael, my protagonist, despairs over his relationship with Shelly. He senses she is moving on. As rain pelts from the pewter colored sky and wind chills the air it’s easy to slide inside Michael’s nadir.

Coffee. During winter, when sixteen hours a day is spent in darkness, the caffeinated warm beverage is a portable happy light. When I was still teaching in Ohio I kept the ubiquitous morning brew on my desk, but I barely tasted it. My morning cup of Joe provided rocket fuel to jettison my night owl body into being awake and functional in the deadly dawn. Now that I am retired and choose my own hours, I savor my coffee at a leisurely pace. It warms my palette and hands and aids the creative process.

Because coffee is a necessity here, coffee shops abound in Seattle. There is a either a Starbucks or an independent coffee shop on each block of the city and its environs, and every grocery store hosts a coffee shop. (Except for WinCo. What’s up with that?) Coffee shops are nirvana for starving writers. We can spend as little as three bucks and occupy space for several hours as we create our masterpieces. Most coffee shops also provide food, plugs and free wifi.

Coffee shops are filled with other writers. Being in the company of writers is essential because we writers tend to live inside our own heads. We tolerate friends and family but prefer to spend large blocks of time in solitude. Yet writers periodically emerge from the darkness to commune with like-minded souls. As I write this I’m sitting across the table from my friend and fellow writer Cat. We ignore one another as we peck at our keyboards, yet we transfer an invisible thread of energy, like musicians jamming together, except our tunes are silent, the notes appearing on the page.

Because writers live near or in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest hosts several writers’ conferences every year, and is home to the Hugo House, which holds frequent readings and workshops .

Seattle has bookstores and libraries. Writers are readers, and Seattle has the largest percentage of library card holders in the nation (80%) along with 1.5 bookstores per 10,000, people. Almost any spot in the city is within a fifteen minutes drive to a library or bookstore.  No experience can replicate a physical bookstore. Even Amazon, the online behemoth, discovered this, which prompted them to open their own brick and mortar store in the university district. Sending a book directly to your device is convenient and cheap, but it doesn’t replace the experience of a book falling open in your hands, emitting its old or new book smell.

Seattle has its drawbacks. It's ridiculously expensive to live here, and unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson, you ain’t making money off your words, so your favorite stores become Value Village, Goodwill and Grocery Outlet. Traffic is miserable, especially if it rains. There is public transportation, but it hasn't kept up with the exponential population growth. In cities like NYC and San Francisco one is better off without a car, but here, you still need a car. And yeah, the weather often sucks.

I haven't even mentioned the endless distractions, on how a good day it’s hard to resist jumping on a ferry to visit one of the nearby islands, or take a walk through Sculpture Park along the waterfront on Elliot Bay.

One can write anywhere, but I have chosen to write here. As long as I have my writing tools: laptop or pen and paper, coffee, and noise canceling headphones, I’m all set.


Where do you like to write? 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Getting the Details Right




In the manuscript I’m revising there’s a scene that takes place in Seattle’s Sculpture Park. Problem is I had not actually been to Sculpture Park. It’s free and open 365 days a year. Other than revising, I had nothing else on the agenda today.

Initially I planned to take the bus because 1,) my cousin gave me some free bus passes that expire soon, and 2,) driving (and parking) in downtown Seattle is a pain. But it was cold and rainy when I left my house this morning. Not the most ideal weather for an outdoor excursion but I couldn’t revise my scene any further without actually setting foot in the park.

I drove south on Highway 99 to 105th and continued south through Ballard on Holman, which morphs into 15 th St. NW and changes into Elliot Way. Allegedly there’s a parking garage near the park, but luckily for me I couldn't find it. I saved myself 6 bucks by parking at The Spaghetti Factory, which doesn't open until 4:30. It’s located right across the street from the park entrance.

Sculpture Park resembles a boardwalk more than an actual park. It sits right on the seawall overlooking Elliot Bay, adjacent to the Port of Seattle. Today was damp, windy and chilly, so there were only a handful of walkers and runners braving the weather. The surf was high and choppy, and if you stand against the waterfront railing you feel like you’re on a boat. If I were a runner this would be a great place to train. One gets a waterfront view, a few cool pieces of sculpture, and ample leg room.

The sun came out as I began my walk. The entire park is a little over three miles, and I would have trekked the whole thing, but I needed to pee and there were no bathroom facilities, so I only walked about a mile of it and turned around and headed to the Port of Seattle. Because it’s winter, the waterfront on Alaskan Way wasn't crawling with tourists. Last time I was here was in summer and the crowds were so thick it was claustrophobic outdoors.


I dipped inside the Clipper Cafe, used their restroom and sipped a cup of coffee as I watched the cresting waves and ferries arriving and leaving the dock.

I’m glad I made the journey; it will give my scene more authenticity. , even though the scene itself is relatively short, it happens at a critical moment in the plot. Now that I know how to get there and where I can find facilities I plan to return before spring, before the crush of people spoils the view.


 Happy Writing.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It Is a Small World




I recently returned to the Pacific Northwest after more than forty years in Ohio. Essentially my entire adult life was spent in the Buckeye state, with respites to various parts of the globe. I came from a mobile family, and the longest we stayed in one spot was five years. We lived overseas for a spell, and I came back to my home country a Third Culture Kid- one who was not fully American anymore. I had seen too much of the world and met people from various backgrounds to fully buy into the American ideal.

Yet somehow I ended up smack in the middle of the US. I took two of my three degrees in Ohio, and split the forty years in the state living and working in Columbus and Zanesville.

Then I retired, and could go anywhere the wind takes me. So why did I choose to disrupt my life and move Seattle?

A few years before I retired from teaching I tinkered with living in Arizona, where its sunny all year. But I know almost no one there. Cleveland and Chicago were on the list. We lived in the windy city when I was a kid, and I know my way around Cleveland and have friends there. Both cities are adjacent to water, are rife with culture, and have good public transit.  But their winters are too cold. I’m done with snow.

Florida is too humid and home to too many bugs. Besides, I’ve lived in the tropics; it’s called Ohio in July and August.

If I had barrels of money I’d move to the even-keeled warm climate of Hawaii. Trade winds keep the temperatures around seventy degrees, it's surrounded by ocean, and the vibe is laid back. But it also costs a king’s ransom to live there, you can't get in the car and drive to another state, and after awhile the pleasant weather becomes a little tedious.

As a joke, I’ll say, “for the bookstores.” Yet there is an element of truth behind that statement. I’m a bibliophile, and living within a few miles of access to physical books is akin to surfers needing to live near the coast. (I also live fairly near several bodies of water here, so you can call that reason number two.)

The weather is far from paradise. Winters are dark and drizzly, and I learned a couple of climate surprises: freezing fog and sun breaks. The cost of housing is outrageous and traffic is horrendous.  The New Yorker has predicted we will face a devastating 9.0 earthquake any time now. Nobody sane would move here, but those who know me well use other adjectives to describe me.

I retired from teaching but I continue my work as a writer. Even though writers are loners, I need to be in proximity of writers. On those isolated occasions when I socialize, I like talking shop with writers. Normal people don’t chat about their imaginary friends the way fiction writers do. And there are bookstores here, so on any given day I can go listen to an author read from his or her work.

Seattle is weird. Weird in a way a perennial-new-kid-book-nerd-last-kid-for-the-picked-for-teams-way-fits-in. On the bus traveling downtown I’m only among a handful of native English speakers. It’s as if I am back in Hong Kong, Bangkok, or London. A stranger in a strange land that feels familiar. I am a French, African, Chinese, Hawaiian, Mexican, Canadian, Italian, English, Pakistani.

If I had any money I can buy anything I want. There’s an entire store for Root Beer in Shoreline, and near Pike Place Market is a shop just for maps and globes. There are numerous spice markets, and a coffee shop every few feet

Ultimately I chose Seattle because of family. I am now a twenty minute drive from a cousin, and, on a rare day when traffic actually flows, a three and a half drive from my brother and his family. Before moving from Ohio I made an annual trip out here, which meant seven hours or more of air travel. I have seen my relatives more in the past few months than collectively in the last decade.

I miss my wonderful friends, and face to face contact is best, but social networking reduces the distance. In the old days it sometimes took two weeks for a letter from a friend or family member to arrive. Now I can instantly learn status updates, see photos of their antics, and share cat videos.

Several friends have already threatened promised to come stay with me. Hardly anyone visited me in Zanesville, but Seattle is a great place to visit. I’m learning my way around, so stop in for a visit and I’ll give you a tour.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Is a Small Business Best for Gift Giving?




Today is Small Business Saturday, a tradition that began several years ago to counteract the guerrilla-like shopping tactics of Black Friday. Small businesses can’t offer the deep discounts of most retailers, but they offer other perks you won’t find at the mêlée of the shopping mall.

My family never did the Black Friday thing. Maybe I was raised to be a bad capitalist, but even my sister-in-law, whose middle name is won’t-buy-it-without-a-coupon believes the discounts the day after Thanksgiving aren’t worth losing sleep over. Often if you wait a couple of weeks retailers will lower prices on comparable items.

After working on my manuscript, I only left my house yesterday to return books to the library and check my mailbox. No shopping was involved.

Today I had one trip: to the Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds, WA to purchase a gift for one of the kids in my family. (We adults have resolved not to exchange presents as none of us needs ONE MORE THING in our homes. We donate to charities in one another’s names.) Even the kids have more than enough toys, so of course writer and former librarian me gives books as gifts.

Edmonds, a charming town on Puget Sound north of Seattle, was teeming with shoppers, yet I managed to find a parking space close to the store. It had a fifteen minute limit. For me shopping in a bookstore, 15 minutes is a good idea, otherwise I might buy more than I need. The bookshop was crowded, and I sidled my way to the Children’s book section. Within a few minutes, a young woman approached and asked if I needed any help.

In a giant retail store, it’s unlikely a clerk will wander through and offer help. My experience with chain bookstores is you wait at a counter to ask, and the under-appreciated clerk, who has just dealt with a gaggle of rude shoppers, will point to a section of books and turn to help the next customer.

Since I am unfamiliar with books for the age group (which I won't reveal since I don't want the recipient of my gift to know just yet,) I took advantage of browsing through the young woman’s several suggestions. I chose two.

Cognizant of my time limit, I glanced briefly at other shelves, and stood in line to pay. After the clerk rang me up, she asked if I wanted my items gift wrapped. No charge. “Sure. That’s one less present to wrap.” I was even able to choose from three paper patterns.

As I waited for my gift to be wrapped, the store’s proprietor handed out canvas tote bags with Shop Small imprinted on both sides.



Even you missed shopping today, make it a goal to buy at least one of your holiday gifts at small business. It will make a difference to the man or woman who owns the business and his or her employees. 




Happy shopping.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dialogue with Myself in the Rain



I’m sitting in the coffee shop, not really writing, just messing around. It’s raining too hard to leave, though, and I have a blog I’ve ignored for almost two months. I’m trying to write a session proposal to speak at a reputable writers' conference. It's a big deal. I’m not a big deal. Not yet, anyway.

One thing the conference committee wants on the application form is my ‘expertise with the proposed topic.’ I’m an expert in Being a Failed Novelist.

Yet that’s no longer true. My book came out recently. Perhaps I could skew my talk about How I Booted Out of the Epic Fails. But then my novel might be an epic fail.

How did I get that book contract again?
Oh yeah: Persistence and Plan B.

That title might work. My expertise is in continuing to write in spite of the astronomical odds against me.

There are innumerable reasons not to become a writer where you can avoid facing blank pages and blinking cursors, spending too much time inside your head, and ending up writing in the rain.

One could have a life.

But what is a life without pursuit of what charges your batteries?

Like any ineffable passion, writers write in spite of the rain, in spite of the odds of success and money are so remote that being hit by a meteorite is more likely.

Another question on the conference application is to list three things attendees will learn.

1)                  Writing the novel was the easy part.
2)                  Even if you have an agent, a book contract, or have begun a new project, you need to invest time in managing the details toward the book’s publication. It won’t get done for you.
3)                  Your friends and family don't mind that you write, but they don’t want to hear about the process. So the introverted writer must become part of a community of writers.

The committee also wants my life story in 100 words, a 50 word summary of my presentation, and worst o all, a photograph of me.

So here I sit next to a rain soaked window as high winds knock down tree limbs, contemplating persistence and Plan B, wondering if a photo of my cat will suffice.



Happy Writing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Have a Permission Slip?



A writer spends hours, weeks, and sometimes years bending over the keyboard or typewriter, suffering over sentences, scenes, and characters, creating his or masterpiece. One day, this writer reaches the end of the story. The draft is complete, the hard work is done.

Not so fast.
If you intend to get this tome published, the work has only begun, you foolish, silly writer.  There are steps they don't tell you in writer school.

First, this mass of pages is not a book. It's a draft, and if it's the first draft, likely a grainy one. But here is your chance to revisit your characters and sharpen the focus. Here you will delete scenes, correct typos, supplant repeated use verbs and phrases, and make it readable.

Next you will need to find a trusted reader or readers who will truthfully tell you what works, what doesn't, and why. Find at least one reader who writes well and is willing to be brutally honest.

You will revise and edit. If you are a typo queen, as am I, you will be smart to hire an editor before you submit or pitch this novel. This is money well spent, because this editor can also offer critical advice.

You are now ready to sell it.
You've go through the revision and the dreaded submission process. You form a band called Query Street and the Screaming Synopsis… no wait, you don’t have time to perform in a rock band.
You get a book contract (yay, ego boost) and are working with an editor who loves your book and has great plans for you. You have a due date for your final mss and a publication date.
Now is not the time to lie on the beach, dreaming of the Yacht you plan to buy with your millions…..Okay, advances aren’t what they used to be unless you’re James Patterson. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/08/authors-incomes-collapse-alcs-survey But still, the hard part is over now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

It is up to the author to secure Permissions. Unlike writing a research paper or master’s thesis where supplying a bibliography will suffice, if you quote from another work, say a song, a poem or a novel, you must have written permission from whoever holds the rights to the work.

This can be tricky, because sometimes the publisher holds the rights, but there are caveats as to how works can be used. Even though the Nobel Laureate died in 1973, he left no heirs, so the Neruda foundation in Barcelona, Spain handles this negotiation.

Permissions aren’t always free. The foundation asked for a thousand dollars to use one poem, and two lines from two of Neruda’s poems. My book is called Breakfast with Neruda, so I need at least some quotes, so we settled on a much smaller amount to use two lines from two separate poems. My original draft opened every chapter with a Neruda quote, which in retrospect would have cost me more than my condo. (Luckily an early reader said, while she loved the poems, she felt opening each chapter like that was heavy handed.)

Permissions can be a wild sheep chase. I quoted another author, and the publisher told me to contact the agency, so I wrote to him, and he told to contact the publisher. I ended up deleting this quote.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a song, but the record company doesn't own the rights, and had no idea who did. Scratch that. I just name the song.

The author of a poem I planned to use in the final chapter died three years ago, and I had no idea where to contact her heirs. I sent a condolence note on the funeral home page, but I’m not sure people check those after the first few months of the loved one’s passing. I didn’t after my brother and father passed.

Working on permissions isn't as soul wrenching as writing a query and opening the flurry of rejections, but it keeps me from writing, so it feels like work.

The benefit of permissions. Obviously getting permission protects you from lawsuits and possible scandal, but it also helped me reconsider some of my decisions. Rejecting some of my content opened me up to look at alternatives.

I’ve gone through revision and editing, and I have approved the cover art, (smaller houses sometimes give authors input on their covers. Big houses don't.) The next step is the dreaded author photo. I stumbled upon a photographer who claims she can make me look twenty years younger...


Writing the novel was the easy part.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Latest Writing Adventure



Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t have much sense, so it’s no surprise I signed up for an eight week course where I hope to have completed a draft of another novel. The final manuscript of Breakfast With Neruda is submitted, the draft of its sequel is tweaked, and book three is begging to be written. So why not?

How Writers Write Fiction is an annual event sponsored by the University of Iowa, known for producing noted writers such as Robert Olen Butler, Flannery O’Connor, and Rita Dove. The class is being led by poet and essayist Christopher Merrill and novelist Angela Flourney. Best of all, the class is free. (There’s an option to take it for a certificate of completion for $50.00.)

For the past seven days I’ve set up my account, joined a discussion group called Readers Writers, formed a discussion group I titled Not Your First Rodeo, and completed some of the short pre-writing assignments.  The course doesn't officially commence until Oct 1, but the organizers devised a series of Welcome Week activities which include instructional videos, readings, and writing exercises designed to establish writing communities and familiarize us with the course components.

. I like that the course has options for beginning and advanced writers. In both cases, peer feedback is part of the attraction. My recent move has left me bereft of my writing peeps. I have one local friend with whom I write, yet I’ve also been getting to know writers in my two discussion groups.

I chose Readers Writers because the level of discussion revealed participants who read at a deeper level than most book discussion groups. Also, the group was small. In a free course offered worldwide, it’s important to find a niche group. There are teaching moderators, but since I’ve not taken the class before I’m not sure this works. I imagine feedback won’t be live.

I also sponsor a group I called Not Your First Rodeo for experienced writers. I hope to find one or two people here with whom I can exchange meaningful dialogue and criticism.


In addition to readings and writing assignments, there will be quizzes. Only certificate seekers are required to take them, but I plan to participate. I may find I know nothing about writing fiction.

I’ll keep you posted.
Happy Writing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

10 Steps to Getting Your Novel Published



Sane people are not writing novels. They are spending their free time taking dance lessons, going to barbecues, learning how to golf, and having drinks or coffee with friends after work. But you're only marginally sane, and you decide to write a novel.  

Step One. Decide what type of novel you want to write. This part is easy. What kinds of novels do you read? If you’re drawn to romance or chick lit, perhaps that’s in your wheelhouse. Do you love danger and carry a gun? You should write a mystery. For years writers have heard “write what you know,” but good writing is also about finding what you don't know. A well crafted novel combines both.

Step Two) Write a draft of say 55,000 words. This could take as little as a month (see nanowrimo.org) or several years. In any case, it’s not a bad start, but you know it’s not ready for publication. You just don't know why.

Step Three: Show it to someone. You have several options here. A) Take a writing workshop where you attend a First Pages session. The instructor asks for copies of participants’ first pages. (This is after he has just demonstrated how the first page should snare the reader, identify the protagonist, and reveal conflict. (For more on this read Hooked. http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-all-articles/hooked.) The workshop leader projects these pages anonymously on a giant screen, where he deconstructs yours. Words you thought looked good on your laptop screen reveal too much back story, show no hint of conflict, and vaguely give the reader a picture of who your protagonist is.

Revert back to Step Two. Call this 2 A)You write two more drafts, where you restructure the story, refine characters, and flesh out details; the manuscript grows to 70,000 words.

Step Three B) Take another workshop with a Famous Bestselling Writer (FBW), whose work you admired. FBW treats you and your work as if it were stinking up the room. You stash the manuscript inside a suitcase and leave it there. Maybe writing isn't your forte. Several months later, you clean out a closet and find the albatross, and decide it’s not horrible. You make a few changes, and C) choose a writer friend who will provide honest feedback without shredding your ego. Keep writing. Why else can you do? Writing the novel was the easy part, but you don't know that yet.

Step Four: Hire an editor. Whether you self- publish or seek a traditional publisher, this step is critical, particularly if like me, ‘typo’ is your middle name. This editor will point out where you spelled a character’s name two different ways, repeated dialogue and actions, forgot names of minor characters, and used the verb ‘smirk’ too many times to count.

Step Five: Title it. The title is more than just a name. A book’s title gives the reader a hint of what lies inside. A book called Love’s Eternal Promise is clearly a romance. Kafka on the Shore begs for a reader who has read Kafka. In Game of Thrones you know kings and queens are involved.

I like a title that isn't too obvious, yet also not obscure. (Poets can get by with obscure titles, but fiction readers like the book slightly unmasked.) Shadow of the Wind conveys mystery, On the Road, and Gulliver’s Travels let you know the characters are not sitting still for long, Pride and Prejudice provides hints to the book’s major themes, and The Last Song emits clues this book will be sad. Catcher in the Rye is a weird title, and though you don't learn two thirds through the book why it’s called that, the phrase rolls off the tongue. Salinger could have called it Holden’s Weird Adventure in Dropping Out, but that reveals too much plot, and somehow weakens the book.

My novel takes place during summer, and the eighteen year old protagonist has a car he calls the Blue Whale, and I considered calling it Summer of the Blue Whale, but that sounded too juvenile and chirpy. (My snarky editor friend suggested I call it A Whole Lot of Smirking Going on).
My working title was Pagoda because initially my boy has a fake ID that names him Michael Pagoda. Later this is changed to Michael Neruda after the word ‘pagoda’ did not make sense to the plot or character. After many sleepless nights, I decided on Breakfast with Neruda. Why? You’ll have to read the book for the answer….

Now that you have named your masterpiece, you move on to Step Six: publication. (Success at self-publishing requires aggressive marketing skills, and since you’d rather write, we will stick with traditional publishing.) This step involves A) researching agents in Writer’s Market, or other online sources. Make a list of agents, and B) start sending out queries. Almost every novelist I know hates this part of the writing saga. I’d rather write another novel. Or get a root canal.

What is a query? It’s where you shrink that 70,000 plus word manuscript to no more than two paragraphs, share your publishing history or related qualifications, and hint your “brand.” You need to appear friendly without being obsequious, confident without being haughty. Most importantly, your words reveal you can write well. http://laura-moe.blogspot.com/2013/07/query-letters-how-to-get-and-agent-to.html 
Six C): Many agents require a synopsis along with query. Take your 250-500 page manuscript and shrink it to two to ten pages, depending on each agent’s preferences.

Six D) Agents and editors claim they want something new and unique, but if you scan the shelves in the bookstore or library in the fiction section, most of what is published is derivative of what has previously sold. Or we’ve just published a book with a similar theme, or a similar setting, etc. I read a great piece today that addresses this issue.http://lithub.com/we-need-diverse-diverse-books/

Step Seven. A) You will get rejected, possibly more than 100 times. Most will either send you a generic rejection, or not even respond. The best rejections will tell you specific reasons why they said no. some will even supply you with names of agents they know who might like your work. These are rare, but golden people who have nice notes and smiley faces next to their names in my database.  Rejections can help you make improvement

Seven B) Prepare to get weird feedback. I attended a conference in Seattle on marketing your work that included “pitch sessions. .http://laura-moe.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-pitches-at-pnwa-2013.html A couple of agents asked to see my manuscript. Neither represented me,) one agent I pitched to told me, “If you rewrite it and give him a superpower I’ll take a look at it.”

Step Eight. After about a hundred "thank you for submitting, but not for us," start doubting yourself, and think maybe FBW was right; you suck. Your friends and family think you’re brilliant, so they have to say nice things about your work. But you want strangers to be honest. You reread the good rejections and confirm your work has merit; it just wasn't something they felt passionate about. Submitting work is like dating; agents and editors have to fall in love. Even though your submission package is dressed to the nines, your hair is freshly cut and you’re wearing your best cologne, if the chemistry isn’t there, he or she will not call you. You rename your email inbox the Daily Rejection.

Step Nine At this point you have two options: quit writing and be normal, or keep trying. But seriously, can a trapezoid like you squash yourself inside a square box?

You have exhausted the list of agents out there who are looking for your type of work. One day you’re reading an online trade journal and come across an article about a publishing house looking for contemporary realistic YA that describes your tale. This house also accepts un-agented materials. You sigh, and think, well why not? You send them a query along with the first 25 pages and a two page synopsis.

Step Ten: The acquisitions editor likes your manuscript, but asks you to rewrite two chapters before she will consider it. You suspected there was a flaw in your book, and this editor nailed he problem. You rewrite and resubmit a couple of weeks later, and a short time later an offer is made. Your work is done, right?


Ha! Writing the novel was the easy part. The work is just beginning.

Happy Writing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Just Call Me MoeGyver



There are many advantages to living alone. I can leave a big mess and nobody will bark at me to clean it up, or I’m not picking up after anyone else. I can watch my own shows or listen to my choice of music. When I feel the need for company I go out with friends. Unless I lock myself out of my condo.

When I lived in Zanesville several of my friends had keys to my place, as I often locked myself out until I had a house with a garage. I usually kept the door from the kitchen to the garage unlocked. Even so, my front door key was on the same key ring as my car key.

Sine moving here I’ve been locked out twice. The first time was when I did a load of laundry. I set the clothes in for washing and walked back to my apartment. Walked up the steps, pulled out my key ring, and all that hung there was my car key and the laundry room key. WTF? I know I had to have had the key to lock my door in the first place, so I retraced my steps to and from the laundry area, and luckily found my key on the ground.

I bought a new key chain/ so far so good. Today, though, my keys would not have helped me.

I had just come home from Office Dept after buying file folders. I noticed Henry was enthralled with a bug on the floor. On closer inspection I saw it was a bumble bee. Bees are growing scarcer, so in order to save it, I let it crawl inside a trash can and took it out to the patio. On reflex I pulled the screen door closed behind me. The bee flew off, and when I turned around to go back inside, the screen door was locked from the inside.

I had no keys, no phone. Nothing. Just me on the second floor patio. Henry sat on the other side of the door, looking at me as if to say why are you still out there? Pablo was asleep under the bed. I had to pee and it was almost lunch time.

Screen doors aren’t well constructed. How hard can it be to break in? Harder than I thought. I tugged, pulled, beat the latch. Nothing. This baby was well made. I thought if I had a Phillips head screw driver I could unscrew the latch, but the only items on my porch are a few plants, my tub mat, and a wash cloth.


What would McGyver do? I looked at my jewelry: a medical ID bracelet and several cheap bangles. I used the ID portion of the bracelet to unscrew the two little screws holding the outside handle on. It came off, but the inside latch still held. Sigh.

But that gave me a small space between the frame and latch to insert something. I bent one of my bangles to form a hook and worked in in until I finally popped the lock. “I’m a cat burglar now,” I said to my cat. Henry walked away and curled up on the couch, relieved to know the hand that feeds him isn't stuck on the patio.

My B&E tools....



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Breaking Up With Bubble Wrap

I've been slogging through the stuff I paid way too much to have shipped across the country. Old manuscripts that will never be published, an enormous amount of old photos, and miscellaneous items. I think of the organizer gurus you see on TV who proclaim keep only what you need and what brings you joy. The rest discard or donate.

Initially all those boxes cluttering my living room did not bring me joy. I felt I was living inside Susan’s house in my upcoming novel. Since my place came almost fully equipped, there are a lot of kitchen utensils I've already donated. And I'm also finding there are things I own I don't really have room for.

On Sunday I wanted to burn all my books. Boxes and boxes of them, cluttering my living room floor. But Monday morning my mission was to buy a bookcase. I couldn't do any more unpacking until I had to place to shelve my tomes.

Since I've been building (badly) cheap furniture, I wanted something ready-made. Seriously, I would have flunked shop class. Elizabeth tells me she loves building things. “It makes me feel powerful.” I feel powerless because I’m so inept. It took me six hours to put together the boxed night stand I found in the hall closet, and the bottom drawer still doesn't slide in and out with ease.

I found a book case first store out of the gate: Home Goods. And look how perfectly it fits in the space.


This book case took care of some of my books, but I still needed another. Today I went to Storables, and found shelving sold in pre assembled pieces. I bought three interlocking shelf pieces for fifty bucks. They were on sale. I think I need one more, though.

My living room no longer looks like a hider lives here. I can't say that about my didn't get room/office and bedroom. But my brother and sister-in-law are visiting me next Monday, so I need to haul ass and get ER done. (You can take the girl of Ohio, but she still remembers the indigenous vocabulary.)


The only furniture I need now is a dresser and I might be able to keep my clothes, which is a good thing since unclad, I resemble Buddha.

Each day I find basic items I need, such as today, while preparing meatball soup to share with Scott and Jena tomorrow, and I discovered I had no way to open the beans. While the onions simmered in the croc pot I ran to Wal mart and bought a can opener.


On a side note, my editor sent me a PDF of my book cover. It’s gorgeous.  I'll share it when I can.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Living Small



When I sold most of my belongings and moved across the country, I assumed I’d be moving into a blank space. I stuffed two director’s chairs, a fold-able table, and an aerobed in the trunk of my car, assuming these would be my furniture until I could buy some. I recently moved into my one bedroom condo.  What I didn't sell or give away I left for the young couple who bought my house. Included in that were a lot of my cooking supplies, some lamps, towels, furniture, my toolbox (I kept a few critical tools), and yard maintenance tools.

In a way you could say I paid it forward, because the condo I put an offer on came with a bed, two lamps, a couch, two chairs, a set of dishes and other kitchen/cleaning supplies. The couple who owned it didn't actually live there; it was a weekend and occasional residence when business brought them to Seattle. They are retired, and no longer needed the space, and generously left the contents. I am slowly filling in the gaps of what I need.

I don't need to steal any of Jena’s knives because the owners left me a nice, sharp set, along with other spoons and cooking tools.  When my shipment from storage comes some of my own utensils will get donated to Value Village, which is a local second hand store.

I didn't want to share my bathroom with cats again. Three weeks in the hotel stepping over cat boxes to use the toilet were enough for me. Across from the bathroom is a utility closet, which after I moved the vacuum cleaner and step ladder, (The bedroom closet is huge and accommodates these) I had enough room for the boys’ boxes, even though a potential issue in a small space like this is cat litter odor.

I went to Pet Smart to buy more cat litter I discovered a Litter Genie. It’s Similar to a diaper Genie, which I had thought of buying until I saw this. You scoop the poop or clumps of pee into the chute, pull a lever, and it disappears, No odor. Allegedly one bag lasts for three weeks, but because Henry pees several times a day. Poor old kitty. I have a feeling I will be cleaning the unit out once a week.

Because the couch is ultra modern in white leather, accompanied by a white and a black leather chair, I wanted to add pieces that complemented them, but also acted as storage. I bought two red naugahyde foot stools that double as storage and the lids can be flipped over to form serving trays.  I also found a red bookcase that fits on a short wall, and paired it with a sea green glass lamp.




I’m trying to select pieces carefully that coordinate with existing furniture, but also serve a function. I also bought an oak (well, processed oak) desk and bookcase to match the kitchen cabinets. Hauling the pieces upstairs took several trips. Once built, these will go in the dining room next to the small oak dining set the owner’s left. (Next blog post will be about why I would have failed Shop Class.)


Until my storage stuff comes I’m on hold from any more large purchases. I know there’s a cedar chest coming, as well as my crock pot, wicker foot stool and cobalt blue lamps, but I’m not sure what else is in there. Books, of course, yet not as many as I once owned. (I probably sold or gave away 80% of my books.) I also shipped Fall and Winter clothes, several paintings, art supplies, and a few miscellaneous items, yet some of what’s arriving could end up at Value Village.

Because I am living small, I need to be cognizant of being well organized, and learn to live with less. My old desk held lots of stuff, and the roll top feature provided instant hiding for the usual messy surface if company came over. I no longer have that option. I love office supplies, but from now on I will need to second guess buying packages of cute paper clips. I don’t have anywhere to put them.

Luckily the bedroom closet is ginormous because all seasons of clothing will have to go in there. I live close to a Half Price books, and every time I finish a book I don't plan to read again, I will trade it in on another.

In a way I’m changing my personal style. I’ve always been a fan of patterns and pillows, but that just won't work with my new modern decor. I’m okay with that. I had way too much stuff for one person anyway. How much do we truly need?


 Interesting footnote. when I went to get something out of  my car earlier this evening I smelled pot smoke. In Ohio the toker would get busted, but it's legal here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"That's My Spot."


I’m still trying to find my “ spot.” I am revisiting a Starbucks I disliked the first time I was here. It has an odd set up, the tables are squeezed together, and there are very few plugs, but I’m hungry and I have a free reward on my card. Also, it’s freezing in here, but the Starbucks in Zanesville is always cold, so maybe this is my new spot.

Starbucks has been a chief source of my meals on this journey. Several people gave me Starbucks cards as going away gifts, and out here I can buy Protein Bistro boxes, which comprise of a hard-boiled egg, grapes, apple slices, a multigrain roll, a couple wedges of cheese, and a packet of natural peanut butter. There are other types of boxes, and they cost five bucks, but each is a healthy choice. Today I am using my reward for a free one.

I need to learn about twenty new languages so I can eavesdrop on conversations here. Right now I’m in a middle seat surrounded by people chattering in various tongues. But since I can’t follow their dialogues, I can’t use that as a distraction from writing.

This location is only twenty blocks from my condo, which I will be moving into Saturday morning. Technically I can walk here, but most likely I won't since I will also be hauling a backpack containing my laptop.

My table faces the parking lot, and I’m getting glare from windshields. I could move to the facing chair, but it’s bad feng shui to sit with one’s back to the door if you are alone.  

The other day I met my fiend Cat at Third Place Books. I arrived early in case I got lost, which I didn't. Since I was inside a bookstore I knew I may as well peruse the volumes before Cat and I sat in the cafe area to write. Writers work alone, yet sometimes sitting with another writer optimizes productivity, as if we emit some shared creative energy.

At one point I got up to use the bathroom, and left my belongings with Cat. As I was walking back through the store, a woman stopped me and asked where she could find the James Lee Burke novels. I said, "I don't work here, but I'd be happy to show you."
She eyed me, and said, "You look like you should work here."

I've toyed with the idea of working in a bookstore part time, but two things come to mind: One, I might just have to sign my check over to the store from all the books I buy. At least that was the case when I was younger and allegedly supplemented my income with a second job in a bookshop. The other caveat is I like hanging around bookstores. If I work in one, will that omit a potential hangout spot?

Eventually I will find that elusive spot, or since I’m in a large city, many spots where I feel comfortable and welcomed. This Starbucks might make the list. The baristas are friendly and seem to enjoy their work.  (I’ve been to a couple where some or all of the employees are rude or indifferent.)


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taking Circuitous Routes



My friends in Zanesville, noted as being the fifth worst city in Ohio, often complain about the traffic on Maple Avenue. For about two miles between I-70 and Colony Square Mall, cars clutter both north and south bound lanes. Throughout the rest of the city one can drive with relative ease.

Traffic in Seattle is like that strip of Maple Ave. magnified 200 times. A five mile trip can take an hour depending on the time of day and road construction. Freeways are best traveled between 10 and 2 pm. Traffic is heavy, but it moves, sometimes even at the posted speed limit.

Traffic is going to get worse. High rise apartments and condos are springing up quickly and being squeezed onto lots that once held single family homes. The bus system in Seattle city is fairly efficient, but the light rail is limited, and if one lives in a suburb, he or she needs a car. My cousin Jena says traffic tends to keep people in their neighborhoods.

You’re wondering why I moved here.

I tend to use maps or landmarks to find my way. My GPS using friends and family think I’m nuts, but I think it’s good for my brain to discover a route on my own. If we become too reliant on technology to steer us in the right direction we don't truly learn the path, or its alternatives. I found this when students did internet “research.” Most used Google to find a site or two, and stopped there. They skated the surface of wisdom, avoiding the narrow back roads that may lead to a treasure.

I’ve grown comfortable knowing where to drive in Zanesville and Columbus without a map. Now I have to pay attention to detail to keep from getting lost. Sometimes I think those details change. I have yet to find this Barnes & Noble without getting turned around. Until I find a permanent place to land, the bookstore cafe has become “my spot.” I swear the landmarks change just to screw me up each time I drive here.

I use my GPS app only when I am deeply lost. The other day I tried to drive to Lake Forest Park. I followed the freeway sign for the Lake Forest exit, and thought I was headed in the right direction. After a half hour of driving and a couple of turns, I ended up right back at my hotel. I burst out laughing. I pulled into the parking lot, got directions from the app, and tried the trip again. I saw what my error was; I turned left in a spot where I should have gone straight. It looked vaguely familiar. (Of course it was familiar; it was near my hotel.)

My target on this venture was Third Place Books. I had come here several times when I house sat for Jena and Scott last year, and knew the route by heart from their house. One of the reasons I moved here is the city still supports independent bookstores. Zanesville is an hour’s drive from the nearest bookstore.


Every day I am here I get less lost. Today I am meeting my friend Cat at Third Place Books, and I’m pretty sure I can find it again. I’ll leave early just in case they move the landmarks.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Soup's On



My hands stink of onion and garlic and this makes me happy. I cooked yesterday. It's been three weeks or longer since I’ve sliced, sautéed and stirred anything. The week prior to my leaving Ohio I ate most of my meals out with friends, and these past two weeks I’ve either eaten on the road, or in the hotel, with the exception of my three days on the farm where cousin Cheryl cooked for me. A couple of days ago I texted my cousin Jena and said, “I have a hankering for some MOEnastrone. I want to come to your house and cook dinner for you.” She loved this idea.

She was having concrete laid in her back yard, and we worked out Wednesday was a good day for me to keep her dog Luna company while the men worked in the yard. I left the hotel late in the morning and shopped for my ingredients at the Fred Meyer near Jena’s house.

Jena had left out a big pot for me and labeled cabinets so I could find spices, olive oil and utensils. I turned on the burner and drizzled olive oil inside the bottom of the pot. I diced an onion and tossed it in the warm oil. Next was garlic. The knife I used on the onions wasn’t cutting the garlic. I pulled a different knife out of the knife block and fell in love. This very expensive looking knife sliced the garlic like it was butter. Note to self; steal this knife.

As the garlic and onions softened, I added broth and chopped and diced zucchini, carrots, celery,  and tomatoes. I’m often asked for my soup recipe, but I don’t have one. Each time I make it, the soup tastes slightly different from the previous batch. It depends on the season and which ingredients I choose. This time I used chicken broth Jena had prepared. I often use vegetable broth if I’m cooking for a group to appease vegetarians. Sometimes in winter I use beef broth as it has a heftier flavor. The two ingredients I always use are kidney beans and tomatoes.

In summer I aim to use almost entirely fresh vegetables. This time I also added frozen baby lima and green beans. Because I was cooking in Jena’s kitchen, I used the seasonings she had on hand at home I use an Italian seasoning mix, but the closest Jena had was an Italian sausage seasoning mix, which added a slight kick to the soup. 

As the soup cooked, I looked up recipes for making chicken parmesan. I used the Food Network recipe as my guide, and adapted it slightly. (I never follow a recipe to the letter. I like to leave my own signature on a dish.)

After the chicken went into the oven, I took Luna for a short walk, and by the time we walked in the door Jena was home from work and the chicken was ready for me to add marinara and cheese. Jena opened a bottle of red wine, and we chatted as she prepared salad. We ate outdoors since the night was clear and crisp.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Let's Not Shake it Up

I never should have read the New Yorker article about Seattle’s odds of being devastated by the Big One. Disaster images run through my overactive imagination as I walk along the beach at low tide, half expecting a giant surge of the predicted tsunami.

I sit outside a cafe in Edmonds, a beach town north of Seattle, and observe the calm as I eat my carrot ginger soup and caprese sandwich from the pretentious cafe. (The soup has a grassy, vegan flavor, and they’ve put something like grape jelly on the tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich.) It’s sunny, and 80 degrees, and it seems impossible the earth might suddenly collapse beneath me, obliterating everything in its path.

Californians expect the Big One at any moment. They live with frequent trembling earth and know the risk of living on a fault line. But the earth doesn't shimmy here.  The eventual disaster will take us all by surprise.

Earth never promised to be a safe place. It’s been trying to shake us humans off for millions of years via earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, ice storms, blizzards, high winds, pollen, insect invasions, high heat, sub freezing temperatures, volcanoes, floods and droughts. Pick a place on the map and one or more of the above is indigenous to the area.  Kansas is urging its citizens to pack a kit for the zombie apocalypse.

This is a good idea anyway. After having lived through numerous storms and power outages in recent years in Ohio, I keep a couple extra gallons of bottled water, bandages, and snack bars handy.

The end of the world has been predicted for centuries, though, by scientists, soothsayers and religious zealots alike. A recent spate of disaster moves, books and TV shows depicting the earth in ruins denotes our fascination with cataclysm. We frequently hear of groups waiting for the mother ship to take its disciples home.  

Yet aren’t there enough real disasters to worry about without pondering the potential for calamity? The lesson here is to finish my weird lunch, enjoy an afternoon walk and window shop in this cute little town of Edmonds as if it’s 1999.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

El Gato Blanco vs. Los Humanos



Okay, so this morning I’m minding my own business, taking a nap on the giant hotel room bed, and the Crazy Cat lady sits down and strokes my fur. So far so good. Then she says, “I’m sorry.” It’s never good news when she starts a conversation with an apology.

She lifts me up and stashes me inside that blasted crate again. That means either we’re moving again, or the vacuum cleaning lady is coming back. She scoots Henry inside his crate, too, and says, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Be good.”

She leaves. Henry doesn’t even bother to complain anymore. Hw sighs and just stares out the wires of his cage. My crate, though, is soft sided. I got out of here once; I’m sure I can find a way to escape again. When I got loose in the car all I had to do was bag my head against the zipper. CCL got wise and faced the zipper side of my crate against the wall. But this thing also has three mesh windows. Unlike the back seat of the car, where I was surrounded by stuff, there is nothing blocking me between the mesh and the outside world.

I bang my big white head against the mesh. There’s no zipper. But wait. I have built in scissors. I claw at one of the windows until I can fit my head through the hole, and voila! Just as the vacuum lady walks in, screams, and slams the door, I’m free!

I stalk the room. Because Henry is locked up, it’s mine, all mine! I’m just about to dance for joy when the CCL comes in and grabs me. “Bad kitty. You escaped,” she says. She jams me back in the carte, but turns it so the hole is now underneath me, and the zipper side is against the wall. But this time she sets the whole contraption inside the closet, loads a pair of shoes on top, and ties the door shut.

I hear her laughing with the maid when she leaves, and the vacuum lady makes all her cleaning noise.  I create a new hole in the mesh and wriggle my way free, but I can’t get out of the closet. It’s not so bad in here, though, so I lie on the top and take a nap until the Crazy Cat Lady comes back.


She’s not mad, though. She sets me in the window and gives Henry and me some treats. After a bit I curl up on the hoodie she had planned to wear today. Cat 1, Human 0.

Henry’s Turn

.

Pablo escaped last night! Not that I blame him. I’ve tried it a few times myself. But the big white oaf actually made it out the door. It was funny watching our human mom try to snag him, and he wriggled out of her hands and waddled his fact cat butt down the hall. He stopped, looked around the unfamiliar surroundings, but Mom chased him down, so he dashed toward the stairs and slipped through her fingers again. It was so exciting! Mom finally nabbed him on the third step and he sort of became rigor mortis cat until she dumped him on the floor back inside the room.

I’m not a big fan of the white cat, and the feeling is mutual. I was here first, but he comes along and acts like HE’s the alpha, so every once in awhile I have to remind him who’s boss. He’s bigger, but I’m meaner, and quicker. A quick left hook on the chin or the nose and he leaves me alone.

Ever since we started this trip, though, we’ve reached an impasse. We’re both prisoners in our crates and inside these strange rooms. I’m just glad we’re not riding in the cramped car every day. Mom still puts us in the crates every once in awhile when the Spanish ladies come to clean. It's annoying. These strangers come in and sing, and sweep and run the vacuum cleaner.

The white guy just sleeps all day now. Not that he didn’t sleep a lot before. He’s the king of laziness. But he used to interact more. Maybe he’s bored. Or he misses being able to lie on top of the car in the garage. I miss the sunbeams that came through the storm door in summer. But in this room Mom opens the drapes and puddles of light sometimes flood the floor.

I don’t know why we’re here. The birds and noises and smells are all different. Every night I smell animals outside our room. And they even let dogs in here! Last night there was one lurking outside our door. White cat and I stood at the ready just in case it broke in.

Right now I’m resting on my blue blanket, but I’ll start bugging Mom for our midnight snack soon.  She knows she won’t get a full night’s sleep unless she bribes us with treats.
MEOWWWWW.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Clouds overhead




It's finally raining in parts of Washington, and it may be my fault because I washed my car today. Someone had poured pop on my car in the hotel parking lot (another car got egged.) My poor auto needed to be washed anyway. The front end was covered with dead bugs that accumulated all the way from Peoria after it stopped raining there.

It was a productive day. After washing the car I went to Pet Smart to buy cat nail clippers since I left mine in Ohio. I traded in one of my Books on CD at Half price Books, and met my realtor at a property without getting lost. She had lined up four places or me to see. The first one emanated such a stench when she unlocked the door, she said, “We’re not going in there. It’s really hard to get rid of odors like that.”

The next two are larger, 2BR, but dingy and have old kitchen appliances. Since they’re at the top of my limit, I know I won't have enough cash reserves left to update them for a long time. The fourth condo is small, but completely renovated with good storage space. The biggest drawback is it’ on the second floor, so I don't relish carting twenty-five pounds of cat litter up those steps. It has tons of natural light and the kitchen is gorgeous.

The kitties are much happier not traveling even though they get annoyed when I crate them so the maid can clean the room. I don’t take full service every day, and today, since I was gone most of the day, I placed the Do Not Disturb sign on the knob. I try to get a window of time when the maid comes, but there’s a language barrier. The first day the Ethiopian maid spoke very little English, so I had to pantomime all I wanted was for her to vacuum, and give me new towels.

Yesterday, the Spanish speaking maid spoke slightly more English, but I had difficulty explaining why I needed a specific time. Elena, the desk clerk, gave me some words to say Tengo dos gatos y no quiero de solo pora mucho tiempo en joula, essentially saying I have two cats and I don't want to leave them in their crates too long. She seemed to understand the gist of what I said.

Tomorrow I get a relief from the hotel breakfast as I am joining Scott and Jena for breakfast..

You Can't Get There From Here



I need to remember this is an adventure while I keep getting lost. Last year when I house sat for three weeks in Seattle, I only got lost once, but here in the suburbs, I can barely find my way down the street. This evening I drove to the nearby Barnes & Noble, a place I had been to just yesterday, and somehow found myself first in Bothell, then in Mill Creek, both suburbs way southeast of Lynnwood, where I'm staying.

Using places like Taco Time, Walgreens and Jack in the Box as landmarks is useless in big cities. There are millions of them, and every strip center in the tri-county area has a Starbucks. My usual good sense of direction failed me, so I finally pulled off the road and resorted to my Google app to steer me back to Lynwood before I ended up back in Idaho.

What should have taken me five minutes took me nearly an hour. Partly because I was so far off course, but largely because it was afternoon rush hour. Cars everywhere. Yet drivers didn’t seem angry or stressed. Perhaps the nice sunny weather had something to do with that. Let’s see how they react in the rain.

Maybe I’m distracted. I think I’m still in shock by uprooting myself from Ohio. I keep expecting to randomly run into someone I know. It may be wishful thinking, but it’s not impossible. A few years ago my father and I were in the art museum in Chicago and I literally bumped into a woman I know in Zanesville.

I do know people here, though. I have met twice with Elizabeth’s and my mutual friend Cat, and Saturday I am meeting cousins for breakfast. And I’m not alone; my two boys are with me.

Tomorrow I begin looking at condos.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Off the Road

 After several Days of speeding my way across he country (with cats!) I took a three day respite at my cousin Bob’s farm near Yakima, Washington. Bob and his wife Cheryl are chill people, so the only “planned” activities were dinner out on my first night at a brewery in Sunnyside, Sunday breakfast in Yakima (more on that later,) and Bob giving me a tour of his acreage and the dairy for whom he supplies hay.

Bob, Cheryl and I spent most of our time catching up since we last visited and having great conversations. They have a guest house on their property, so my spoiled cats did not mix with heir three kitties. Henry and Pablo were confused Saturday morning and I didn’t pack them up for another road trip. They gradually relaxed and took advantage of he large windowsills and sunny windows in the guest quarters.

On Saturday Bob took me on a tour in the afternoon while Cheryl prepared a ham dinner. While driving we spotted one of many osprey nests with two osprey inside.  The dairy farm itself was rife with a variety of odors. The air around the farm as hot and dry with a tinge of smoke, partly from area fires, and party because Bob almost accidently burned down his barn a couple of weeks ago.

On July 4th the three of us sat in Bob and Cheryl’s front yard and watched an array of fireworks heir neighbors set off. Cheryl remarked that fewer than half than usual in the area had fireworks because of the fire risk.

On Sunday, Bob, Cheryl and I headed to Yakima for breakfast at a combination auction house/restaurant. Several area restaurants had closed, so the already successful auction site devotes part its space to a full service restaurant. Cheryl said after they done they usually browse the furniture, but Bob needed to get back to the farm and swathe the alfalfa for hay. He let me ride with him inside the swathe machine for a few runs.



Later I cleaned out Henry’s crate since he had peed in it. After a scrubbing and drying in the sun, it was road ready. I packed some of my stuff and the kitties grew suspicious.

This three day visit was the perfect respite from the days of pounding the freeways, fighting rain, intense heat, mountainous terrain, hot sun, hazy conditions from fires across the west, and my own fatigue.  I knew if I put off leaving by a day I’d never leave.

Pablo tried to hide this morning. He knew by seeing me spray Feliway inside the crates (a substance to help calm cats) that we would be on the road again. Initially Henry didn't seem to mind traveling again, but he meowed non-stop for about an hour. When I stopped at a rest area Cheryl recommended near Ellensburg I saw why; Henry had pooped, but missed the box. He was a stinky mess, so I wiped him down with wet wipes. Once he was clean, I tried holding him with one hand while wiping out the crate, but he scratched the hell out of me. Maybe it was the freeway noise, or the breeze, so I pulled his blue blanket out of the car and rolled him inside it like a burrito so I could finish cleaning the carrier.

This is the first time Henry seemed annoyed by the trip. Otherwise he’s been a trouper. Poor kitty.

I had left the farm around 11, and hoped to be in Seattle by 3, but twenty miles outside the city traffic on I-90 stopped. We crawled for several miles before traffic unsnarled. It was 4:30 by the time I checked in. After hauling two loads of cats and crap to the room, I asked the front desk for restaurants within walking distance so I didn't have to drive any more. In fact I may never drive again. (At least not with cats.

The hotel is directly across from a Buca di Beppo where I enjoyed tomato basil soup, half of a margarita pizza (the other half will be a nice lunch tomorrow), and a glass of red wine. Now I am going to take a shower, unpack, and chillax. 


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pablo's Tale: Day Five of On the The Road

"Not this again," I think, as the crazy woman gripped me tightly and stuffs me into the zippered box like thing. Yeah, yeah, it has windows, but since I made the mistake of demonstrating how easily I can bang my head against the zippered side and escape, she faces that side toward the door, so if I bang against it, I'm only going to give myself a headache instead of freedom.

My traveling companion, an old coot the crazy lady calls Henry, starts vocally protests. "May as well save your breath, old man," I say. “We're not getting our freedom anytime soon. "

For the last several days, this is our routine: lady shunts us inside crates as she hauls our litter box, food, and her computer and clothes and stuffs this all in an already overstuffed car. She finally loads us in between precariously stacked bags and drives for what seems like days to us cats, but apparently is July around seven hours in people time. We spend our days lingering in the backseat while English accented people narrate books. We stop, occasionally and she checks our water dishes. I refuse to acknowledge her and turn my head when she asks how I’m doing, especially when she uses her mock English accent. Henry, though, vociferously offers his opinions on everything from the hot weather, the changing altitudes, and his views on gay marriage and universal health care.

When we are finally freed to walk around, voila! We're in a whole different room in a whole different city.  The crazy cat lady feeds us right away and disappears for awhile, apparently to let the mangy old striped cat and me to sniff our way into finding a spot. So far each placed we've stayed hasn't been bad. Until today.

It's the fifth day, and she has installed us into a very stinky pet designated room outside of Boise, Idaho. She sprayed some lavender, and sprinkled baby powder on the skanky carpet, but it doesn't mask that 1)someone may have been murdered here, 2) stored soiled clothes in here for six months, or 3)had some bowel infestation and didn't quite make it to the toilet . "Sorry, guys," she says, the place is booked solid ."

Other than the smell, the place itself is nice. The desk clerk was friendly, and secured the crazy cat lady some help shuttling us into the room. CCC assures us we will be able to park ourselves for a few days with some of her crazy relatives tomorrow. Meanwhile, she cracks the window and runs the fan full blast. Too bad she didn't book at the Motel 6 up the road. I hope we survive.




Like driving through Dangerous Postcards: Day 4 of On the Road
[ I’m too tired to load a picture.]

This morning I woke to a sunny, windy day. Most hotels offer free breakfasts, and most of them are tasteless and tepid. The breakfast at The Best Western Frontier in Cheyenne is an exception. The main entree was a western omelet, bacon and sausage, along with toast and other sides. The food manager, Chris, was efficient at keeping food stocked and making guests feel welcome. Other than the wonky remote on the TV in the room, I had a five star experience at this hotel.

My sunblock failed me yesterday so when I filled up the tank this morning I bought a hat. Today’s drive was largely pleasant. Cheyenne, Wyoming lies on the eastern end of a state filled with desolate beauty.  One of the Big sky states where you can see miles ahead on a clear day.
Yet there are reminders how under the beauty lies constant risk of brutal storms and road closures.

Little has changed since the last time I was here. On that trip, more than forty years ago, my mother and I took a bus trip from Portland, Oregon to visit friends in Greeley Colorado.
Throughout my drive today the winds gusted, kicking up dust in the construction zones. I can see why pioneers wanted to settle here because of the sharp landscape. It's an artist’s paradise with its varied textures and hues. My sister-in-law, the family paparazzo, would go into picture snapping overload here.

Driving across the open terrain, even at 80 mph, it feels like slow motion. Unlike the east, there are vast distances between exits, and many post signs saying no services. Also unlike the east the road are uncluttered by excess signage. In fact there is little warning on upcoming exits. Rest areas are far apart and few, and many were closed. The two where I stopped, though, had glorious views.

As beautiful as it is, I can't imagine living here. If I were a horsewoman, Wyoming would be ideal. But I'm a bookish nerd who craves a faster paced lifestyle.

The last hour is hardest any day of my trip because by then the cats and I are tired. They start whining, and I find myself counting miles. One thing that keeps me alert is pain. My right shoulder has been hurting, and I have this rubber, spiny thing that you can massage or pound on pressure points. It resembles something from the Middle Ages a knight might carry in battle. I place it between my shoulder and the seat and lean into it.  

We pulled into Ogden right around 5:15 amid rush hour, yet it I found the hotel effortlessly.  I walked across the parking lot and enjoyed a porch chop dinner with salad, potatoes, mixed veggies and a glass of wine, and my bill was only $17.74.  So far the room is also the cheapest on my route.  Cost of living must be low here, and I believe it was on AARP's list of places to retire on a budget, but I also don't see myself settling in Ogden Utah.

Tomorrow I set out for Caldwell, Idaho, right on the tip between Idaho, Oregon and Washington.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Are We There Yet, Mommy?



I woke up annoyed. Annoyed that I had gotten lost twice, and now had NO idea how to find I-80 west, annoyed that I had left my hoodie in the hotel in Peoria so I was chilly all night and slept badly, and annoyed by how crap I packed in my car. When I went out after breakfast to rearrange bags to make room for the kitties, I found a 75’ roll of aluminum foil. Why? Was I planning to build a McGyver bomb or retrieve messages from space? I gave the roll to the young woman at the front desk, who gave me excellent directions back to the freeway.

The cats were fairly compliant all day. This change of scenery and constant driving is stressful for all three of us. Plus all the crap I have to haul in and out of the hotel. It takes two trips with one of those luggage carts. One for them and their accessories, one for my stuff. They’ve both adapted pretty well. Pablo uses the box inside the hotel, but poor old Henry has a small one inside his crate, which occasionally he uses. A few times during the drive I noticed foul odors, but they were bovine. The expensive cat litter is working.

Today’s drive was smooth, even though my car noticed the higher elevation. Every time I had to slow down for construction it took a long time to get my RPMs back up to 75. In Wyoming the speed limit is 80.

Around lunch time I stopped at a Shell station in Kearney, Nebraska. I’ve never liked self- serve. I’m kind of like Cindy Sterling with lawnmowers at the gas pump. I find one which has an easy method and stick to it. The pump at this Shell station had instructions about as clear as mud, so I went inside to get help. The woman behind the counter was rude and condescending, and I thought, “I don't have to buy my gas here,” and I ended up glad hadn’t.

One exit away was a town called Odessa, and a sign advertised Shepp Brothers as having “the cleanest roadside restrooms in Nebraska.”  Their pumps were easy to work, and when I went inside to pay I entered a wonderland. Lucky for me my car is full or I would have gone on a shopping spree of scarves, clothes and purses. They also had groceries, so my lunch was two packets of cheese, a bag of Kettle chips and a banana. And the restroom was clean. I’ve traveled quite a bit but I’ve never seen a toilet that had a bidet function. One might expect such a toilet in a fancy French hotel but not a roadside establishment.

After getting lost in Lincoln, tonight’s dinner was in a Subway across the parking lot from my hotel in Cheyenne. I had a tuna salad sandwich on wheat with spinach and cucumbers. This hotel is right off the freeway, so setting out in the morning will be easy. I found another hoodie in my car to keep me warm in the AC. Right now Pablo is sleeping on it, but the room hasn't cooled off fully.


I have no idea what tie it is. My PC says 8:24, the room clock says 8:35 , and my phone tells me it’s 6:25.
And now time for my nightly glass of wine and select my next stop on the map.