Archives for the month of: July, 2022

What a fucked up mess this moment is. I mean, it could be worse. Really, I’m fine. I’m just… an emotional pile of shit. Chaos and damaged piled high, this morning. I didn’t see it coming. So often, on days when I yield to unexpected fortuitous happiness, joy, or profoundly good moods, I don’t see the twist that sends it spiraling off course equally unexpectedly (and with a whole fuck-ton more baggage, resentment, and disappointment … in the moment, in myself, and yeah, even with the entire fucking world).

Um… no, I don’t have any helpful suggestions for these sorts of trying moments. I suppose, besides being utterly human, they are also probably more commonplace than any one of us damaged fucked up little chaos primates would like them to be. Fuck my bullshit – and fuck yours too. Sorry. I mean… I hope you’re having a good day (legit). Right now, I’m not, and I’m still seething, and stuck on the edge of tears. It’s not “necessary”. It’s not even “rational”. (It’s definitely not “rational” – these are emotions, for fucks sake.) “Wait it out.” That’s a suggestion; these things pass. “Breathe” is another helpful-ish sort of suggestion. I mean… that one is sometimes like telling a hysterical person to “calm down”, though; it’s correct and useful for what it is, but who the hell wants to hear that shit in the moment?? Nope. Me either.

So…yeah. Fucked up moments are a thing in our human experiences. Sometimes our hysterics, tantrums, or blow-ups make sense for scale, urgency, or magnitude of our hurt… other times not so much. I can only point out that refraining from taking action in the heat of the moment, and ideally even mustering some self-restraint with regard to what we might choose to say out loud, makes a lot of fucking sense – but it won’t end the moment (or our hurt) any sooner. Just reduces the mess there is to clean up afterward.

Around here? Nothing damaged, nothing broken, no one injured, no violence occurs… it’s just sad and frustrating and disappointing and aggravating (and did I say sad?) when tempers flair, or feelings get hurt. My head aches from the stress, and from crying. My Traveling Partner has gone a long way toward soothing hurts and trying to heal the moment; he’s pretty good like that. I am less skilled at that sort of thing, and I’m a bit “stuck” right now. Nope, no advice to offer from the perspective of “in it” right now – only perspective. It’ll pass. I know that with certainty. Emotional weather, just a squall. The climate around here is exceptionally pleasant. Weather still happens. (It’s a metaphor.) It’s a bit of an endurance test, and I know I can pass.

…I’ve just got to begin again…

…Sometimes that isn’t easy.

Inspiration leads to… change. Leads to amazing discoveries. Leads to new art, new writing, new thinking. Inspiration comes in a lot of forms, and I think one of the most unusual forms of inspiration for me over the past 2 years and 8 months (or something like that) has been… the pandemic. No kidding. Yes, it’s been hard. Yes, there have been tragedies upon tragedies, upon inconveniences, upon hardships and chaos. There have been colossal disappointments and headaches, and a lot of the experiences of pandemic life have been less than ideal. No argument there. …But… Have you noticed the other things?

Early in the pandemic, to stave off boredom and despair, a lot of people took to new projects and practices to keep themselves from spiraling into depression or to “save their sanity” as close quarters quickly began to feel like real confinement. My Traveling Partner built a new gaming computer – then built one for me. (We really lucked out on the timing, there, because things like graphics cards became “unobtainium” early in the pandemic.) I took on renewed enthusiasm with my aquarium, redesigned the interior of that habitat, and gained some delightful new aquatic creatures. We worked together to refine my work-from-home space to make that not just endurable, but really practical, and actually better than anything I could achieve in the office.

As time wore on, a lot of landlords began to get restless and their ability to earn their living was negatively impacted along with a lot of hard-working people struggling during the pandemic. Our own landlord made noises about wanting to move back into the unit we were occupying – even though we were great tenants able to pay on time each month. We started looking for a home of our own, and surprised ourselves by finding one we could afford, in a community we actually found desirable and livable. We moved, during the pandemic. Craziness. The “new house” thing kept us very busy during the latter half of that first year, and on into the second.

Time kept passing. Pandemic kept being a pandemic.

On Valentine’s Day this year, my partner surprised the hell out of me with a rice cooker and a wok. (We generally don’t do anything about Valentine’s Day other than love each other – which we do all year, every day.) I had never cooked with a wok. I’d only recently even attempted a stir fry for the first time, in a big skillet. I began my next pandemic project right then; learning some Asian cuisine. This was not only wildly successful (and tasty)… it opened my eyes to something I really hadn’t allowed myself to understand before this; I wasn’t actually a very good cook. I made food that was entirely edible. Simple. Decent casseroles. Good biscuits. Acceptable mostly relatively healthy absolutely 100% ordinary food. Good enough that someone sitting down to my table would eat a meal. Not good enough that folks raved about it or asked for my recipes, with the exception of my chocolate truffles (thank you Jacques Pepin) and my shortbread (thanks, Granny). Sometimes my cranberry sauce would wow someone enough to ask for that one (my own recipe, using whole cranberries, cooked with care, and some “wow” added with tangerine slices and Cointreau). Not exactly something to brag about.

My Traveling Partner has always been kind, gracious, and appreciative of my cooking. He’s also nearly always had “notes” – feedback. Some observation on this or that I could maybe do better, offered with great care, love, and consideration for my feelings. My cooking did not get better thereby, or at least not very much. I needed more time, and more study, and I needed to get to that place where I understood that my cooking needed real improvement to be “good”.

That first “pandemic Giftmas”, he gave me Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book “The Food Lab”. (I recommend it!) This started me down the path of actually learning to cook. Like, for real. I learned to make scrambled eggs that were so good I was proud to serve them – and enjoyed eating them – and learned that I didn’t actually “hate eggs”. I just didn’t know how to cook them. LOL I started paying attention more to what I was doing, and really taking my time in the kitchen. The new house has a kitchen that is really my own – and my Traveling Partner began making me cool kitchen gadgets and tools in his shop. I added “The Wok” to my cookbooks, another great cookbook by Kenji Lopez-Alt. I began making changes to how I shopped, prepared, and cooked various foods, based on my partner’s feedback, my new cookbooks, and… inspiration.

My cooking just kept getting better.

The cutting board and knife bar were made with love – and definitely improve the flow of my work space in the kitchen!

My cooking was definitely also “skewed Asian” – I pretty much gave up cooking anything that didn’t happen in a wok. LOL (I even planted my new garden with veggies specifically for stir fries. :D) I was a bit hesitant to stray from what was working out so well!

I kept studying and seeking out chefs, cooks, and content creators whose YouTube videos gave me the most practical insights to becoming a better cook. I continue to do that today. Why am I even going on and on about it? Because… inspiration. See, one evening I decided to whip up something with pasta instead of making a stir fry, or fried rice, or noodles. It was truly dreadful. I mean, honestly, I made something I’d made before, made the way I had always made it. It was a bit of an eye opener, honestly. Did not realize how entirely mediocre my cooking actually had been. It was a hard meal to eat. We had a sense of humor about it. I went back to wok cooking, which I’ve gotten pretty good at it and continue to study.

…But it nagged at me…

…I enjoy good pasta…

I also enjoy Joshua Weissman’s cooking videos. I bought his cookbook. I recommend his content. Some of it is Asian or Asian-inspired. A lot of it isn’t. I kept thinking about pasta. I really do like pasta. I was hesitant. I went looking for more pasta-specific content I could count on to be really good – things that would elevate my cooking, and teach me. Not just any cook, chef, or content creator makes the cut for me; I want to learn. The content has to be “proper“. I’m pretty selective. I stumbled on Vincenzo Prosperi – an Italian in Australia. I watched a video on his channel Vincenzo’s Plate, reacting to bad cooking (hilarious)(and just as I had with Uncle Roger’s videos about fried rice) – and then watched Vincenzo prepare the dish correctly. I watched others. I was watching one a couple days ago. My partner happened to be watching. “Now that looks good!” I was hesitant… seriously nervous about it… but I went for it last night, and made a lovely mushroom pasta dish for dinner. Wow. Worth the study, worth the care – it was tasty and felt like a kind of a home coming. (Thanks, Vincenzo!).

It’s going to be hot this week. I woke this morning eager to consider a cold pasta salad. I searched YouTube for inspiration (…that word again…), and found Jim at Sip and Feast. I watched a couple videos, and my Traveling Partner wandered through the living room just in time to hear Jim talking about his Greek pasta salad. “That sounds yummy” he remarked. “Yeah?” was my answer while my fingers began the practical task of jotting down ingredients I didn’t have on hand. There was time for a trip to the store before the heat set in…

A recipe is really just another kind of map, isn’t it?

It’s much later. There is a lovely pasta salad ready for these hot afternoons. I’m sipping an iced coffee that I spiked with the squeezed out shell of the lemon I zested and juiced for that recipe, and some very handy Jacobsen’s Lemon Zest sea salt – which, omg, so useful and yummy. (I’m not sponsored by any of these folks or brands – I just enjoy them and want to share with you.)

It doesn’t have to be fancy to be satisfying.

It’s a good day to be inspired. It’s a good day to begin again. It’s your adventure – choose your next move. 🙂 Where will inspiration lead you?

Sick time activities tend on the easy low-effort side, for me, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time the last few days (between naps and hot showers) looking over pictures of previous camping trips to the same general location I’ll be going next. I noticed fairly quickly that “the numbers don’t add up” – the campsites are numbered, and I reliably snap a picture of the site I’ve selected, and note the number in my itinerary and various writings. I tend to favor sites that are the most distant from other campers, wherever I go. As I’ve said before; I go for the solitude. 🙂

Like, seriously, out among the trees, camped surrounded by dense tall nettles. Manufactured solitude. 😀

During the pandemic, I didn’t get much camping in. (Duh) There was that last trip in August 2019 – before the pandemic – and then “at long last” another in August 2021, when pandemic restrictions were beginning to lift (rather briefly, as I recall, before returning for some while…I hope I am remembering that correctly). That most recent trip was not down into the deeper, quieter, hike-in camping – that camp ground was closed for substantial repairs, and even the trail down into that area was closed. There had been some serious storms that took down trees, flooded trails, and caused a lot of damage (I read, but did not see for myself). When I went to book my upcoming trip, I noticed something odd… there was a particular site I was considering reserving… only… it didn’t exist on the map at all, now. Actually – there are two fewer sites than there had been, and two of those that were removed were among the four sites that were singularly “remote” (by a notable distance) from the others (and each other). One of these now-missing sites was one I greatly enjoyed. Change is. The other I hadn’t yet tried out, but found visually very pleasing, and had considered it more than once. These changes briefly tested my sanity; could I really be remembering things this incorrectly?? Could I be so wrong about where that site was??

This is no longer site #9. This is the past. Gone now.
This site is gone, too. I wonder what reminder of the past may linger there now?

Now there are just two sites in the hike-in campground that truly stand out as being quite a bit more distant from any other camp sites. One of those is a “walk-in only” and can’t be reserved at all (and is generally occupied any time I’ve gone there). The other? My personal favorite spot. The thing that I found amusing-confusing is that the numbering (of course) had to be updated to “make sense” on the ground for folks seeking their reserved site… and now, the carefully recording numbering of prior visits that I see in my notes and pictures makes no sense; it doesn’t match the map as it exists now. My preferred site was #23, which “no longer exists” but strictly speaking it’s right there on the map – just bearing a different number. So many lovely visits to #23… only… now it’ll be #21, and of course the one trip I had previously made to #21 would be better numbered, now, as #17. Sites #22 and #9, as they had existed, are simply gone now. There is no need for a #22 at all and #9 is attached to a different site altogether. Vexing. But… change is. These are certainly the sorts of changes that can screw with a person’s memories of the past, though. lol

Sometimes I get hung up on such details. What something is called now versus what it used to be named. Street names. Business locations. Changes in which streets are one-way. I sometimes struggle to reconcile what I recall with what I see in front of me. I don’t think that’s unique or unusual; I think we all deal with it because change is. Sorting out these photos and getting them organized by camping trip has been fun and I love the reminders of each one. The pictures take me back down trails as they once were, and each visit has its utterly unique and splendidly different moments… on the same trails. Different weather. Different light. Different flowers in bloom. New or old signs. Well-maintained or falling into disrepair. These small variations don’t reflect “poor memory for details” at all, they simply remind me that “change is”, and that this affects us all, with every experience. The map is not the world. The trail is not the hike. Each moment is an experience all its own.

Still the same favorite, but the number has changed. LOL It’ll be #21 on the new map. The map is not the world.

I’ve camped at this place in March. I found it a bit chilly (and definitely unpleasantly so at night). It was rainy. I find that I would rather wait for later weeks, generally, instead of camping in March. lol

I’ve camped here in May. May was also rainy, but the nights were pretty comfortable, and the thimbleberries along the trails were ripe. It’s a lovely time for wildflowers. The trails are sometimes muddy.

I’ve camped here in July. The summer heat often hasn’t really gotten going, and everything is lush and green, and the trails are dry and easy to walk.

I’ve camped here in August, several times. Comfortable nights, followed by cool mornings well-suited to long hikes. The afternoons are hot – good for napping after a hike. The birdsong, crickets, and peeping frogs make a delightful racket.

I’ve camped here in September a couple times, too. Chilly evenings develop from warm afternoons. Sometimes it has rained briefly, most often it has been dry. Creeks are at their lowest flow. Trails are dry, and so are the meadow grasses. A few wildflowers remain.

Funny thing… while it makes quite a bit of sense that I don’t typically camp earlier than March (don’t like being cold all the time)… looking over my photos, I am a little surprised to see that I have not camped later than mid-September, either. Why is that so odd? Well, the weather around this location is quite mild and suited to camping well into November before it begins getting properly chilly again. Not that it matters relative to most other things, I just found it peculiar, and find myself wondering if I should plan something for October this year? Catch the autumn in her glory, perhaps?

What I was getting to, though, is that each experience has been quite different for reasons other than camp site or season. That March trip? It was dreadful, and I cut it short. I was out there primarily doing a “gear check” for longer more remote trips into wilderness areas with only dispersed camping available, and no “conveniences” (like potable water and vault toilets). I utterly failed to be adequately prepared even for the chill of a pleasant March weekend. lol I forgot my coffee. (Nooooooo!) Seriously? I even forgot any sort of hot beverage, even tea or broth. Forgot my bee sting kit (omg, bees in March??). Couldn’t start a fire – just, for whatever reason, completely forgot how to make that happen on this whole other “do not go solo camping you nitwit” level. The ultra-light cot I had such high hopes for? Flimsy and would not support my weight. Fucking hell. After one overnight I was tired, stressed, and miserable. After two? I called my Traveling Partner to come get me. Embarrassing. I still get occasional teasing about that one. lol

Most of my camping trips are just excuses to hit trails I can’t easily reach on a weekend morning, and to get away for some “me time” and take pictures of flowers. They sort of blend together – until I see the pictures, and look back on each trip as its own thing. A singular experience. Each one of them is quite different, and by making a practice of savoring every pleasant moment at great length, my longer-term memory of all of them is of these wonderful experiences out among the trees – even that March trip.

How often do we taint our memories of the life we live by focusing on the shittiest moments with the whole of our attention, picking them apart, re-analyzing them, talking and writing about them at length, thinking of them often – while failing to do the same for all the pleasant ones? When I stopped doing that, and started putting more of my focus on the choice moments, joyful moments, a-ha moments, and wow moments instead, my experience of life over-all improved quite a lot. I recommend it. When I catch myself ruminating on some bullshit moment of chaos or unhappiness, I make a point to follow that with reflections on lovely moments. Legit. Real. Mine. Doing this has definitely changed my “implicit memory” of life and the world for the better. It’s a choice I make regularly. It’s been very effective as a strategy for ensuring that life feels worth living, every day. Figured I’d share that with you. 🙂 I hope you find it helpful.

…The tl;dr? Don’t get mired in your own bullshit. Reflect on your joys, your wins, what works, and what you love. Take time for that. Sip your coffee (or tea, or… you know, whatever you like) and focus on what delights you in your surroundings right now. I mean… I’m not telling you what to do, just sharing what has been working for me. 🙂 You’re walking your own path, of your own choosing. You can begin again.

Choose your path and walk it. Your results may vary.

Damn today has been fairly shitty. My partner and I are both still sick, and we have been fussing at each other as if we were adversaries on opposing sides of a long-standing conflict who are forced to interact through diplomatic circumstances. Icy moments interspersed with snarling. Tears and slammed doors. The increasingly full waste baskets accumulating used tissues are a visual reminder moment-to-moment that we really are both just sick. It’s unpleasant – it’ll pass.

I thought maybe a nice dish of coffee gelato might be refreshing. I lost interest quickly; limited appetite, even after 10 days of being ill, and I’m just sort of “meh” on food. Without meaning to, I gave up cannabis at some point in the past several days… couldn’t vape. The coughing it caused was intense and painful. I might just leave it as is see how things go. (I mean… if I don’t miss it, does it matter?)

I’m pretty “meh” on any number of subjects right now. Being sick has a tendency to refocus my attention. This afternoon, my attention landed on my rather messy collection of music and video playlists, and more than any meal or flavor this really engaged me; disorder in my environment, over time, adds up to disorder in my thinking. Could just be me, but it’s a thing I know to watch out for. It was my default “Watch Later” list on YouTube that got my attention. It was woefully out-of-date, clogged with shit I’d already watched, or had lost interest in. I cleaned that up, then noticed that a particular music playlist had several tracks that had subsequently been deleted from YouTube… so… I cleaned those up, too. I noticed that my “everything” playlist (literally just all the videos I’ve liked/enjoyed/been fascinated by in one place – b-sides and one-hitters, cool visual art, just… everything) didn’t actually have all of my everything in it, any more… there were new things added to other playlists that never got saved over. I cleaned that up, too. My “favorites” playlist seemed a bit stale… so many tracks that aren’t really “favorites” at this point that should live on over on the “everything” list instead. I cleaned that up, too. As I worked from list to list, tidying up, I experienced that same surge of satisfaction and contentment that I get when I clean the bathroom, kitchen, or tidy some particular space such that everywhere I look is just… right. The details matter, when it comes to our sanity, right? 🙂

I’m not saying that any of this is a cure for stress or anxiety, or in any way a substitute for proper therapy, medical care, or healthy practices generally. It isn’t. It’s more a nice addition, and something to do on a sick day when I’m feeling fussy. Well, I was feeling fussy. Now I’m mostly just chilling. A better feel for a summer Saturday. The music plays on. Videos on one monitor, and this “blank page” on the other. Part of what feels so good about self-care is simply the obvious; self-care feels good. We all want to be cared for. Sometimes I forget how easily that can start with how I care for myself. 🙂

I’m also thinking ahead to my camping trip. I don’t always sleep well when I’m camping. Those wee hours of darkness and solitude are sometimes best passed with some sort of entertainment available – a good book, something to study, some music. Having all my playlists sorted and “in good working order” could be handy. One of my camping trips, I slept during the afternoons almost exclusively. I was wakeful and restless during the night, eager to hit the trail in the mornings, so it was afternoons when I took my ease and got rested. Those were long nights. LOL That location had no connectivity.

Self-care matters. What does it take to feel cared for? How much of that can I do for myself? That kind of emotional self-sufficiency doesn’t just lighten the load on our partners and friends, it also provides a level of all-over independence that reduces how easily we succumb to heartache, loneliness, or manipulation. I feel a surge of anger that I got so sick at all – I’ve got shit to do!! Places to go! Fitness to pursue! A garden to take care of! Meals I’d like to cook! I glance at the clock, keeping an eye out for timing on the next round of cold remedies to take. This will pass.

…I can tell I am at least starting to feel better; I keep wanting to do more, or to cook, or tackle a project. Attempting to respond to the inclination with real action generally still results in frustration, breaking out in a sweat, getting dizzy or woozy, and just giving myself up to the visceral reminder that yeah, I’m still sick. LOL It’s a very human experience.

…I’m so ready to begin again. 🙂

I’m still getting over being sick. It’s not COVID, though, so… there’s that. I figure I’ve got a good chance at getting fully over this with some summertime left for camping and hiking. I don’t think I’ll be up for it as soon as week after next – which is when I’d been planning on going. I wept some pointless childish tears over that, then re-planned my getaway.

Knowing I’m awfully sick, at least for now, I made two alternate plans. One of these is fully a month away (a bit more), well-past when I can expect to be over this and in fair shape for something as demanding as a decent hike… but… I couldn’t get my remote-ish wilderness-y spot that I favor for those dates. I could get a pretty good “plan B” tent site, though, so I booked it. I noticed that my favored location did have availability just 3 weeks from now, though… although I’m not nearly so certain I’ll really be ready for that level of exertion so soon… but… I booked that too. Greed? Selfishness? Maybe just yearning for that bit of solo time out in the trees, and the inescapable awareness that the “plan B” option is far less likely to really meet that need well. “Car camping” – more “glamping” really – and surrounded by others doing the same. My first choice favored site is quite a bit more remote, sufficiently so that on weekdays I’d likely be utterly alone save for the once daily drive through by the park rangers.

Sometimes “luxury” is just being close enough to the car to bring a giant cooler full of icy cold beverages!

My thinking is that if I’m up for it in 3 weeks, I go with the more demanding bit of hiking and camping, and the thrill of taking along my new camera for that experience. If I’m not quite good-to-go, I’ll cancel a few days in advance, giving someone else a shot at that choice campsite, and take advantage of the later date, easier location, two weeks later, and rely on hiking to choice locations for taking pictures, instead of being surrounded by it continuously.

The safety of a managed state park, the solitude of a remote hike-in camp. Me, the birds, the breezes, and the occasional chipmunk visitor.

I’m listening to rain falling. A drenching tropical rain, falling quite steadily. It’s a video, and I enjoy the sound of it. It’s not likely that I’ll be dealing with any rain on my camping trip, in August. More likely the afternoons will be quite hot, and the sunshine-drenched hiking will be miles of sweat and toil, and an occasional biting or stinging insect. Won’t stop me. Won’t make the coffee any less welcome at the start and end of each day. I do find myself thinking over my gear with great care; what I bring depends very much on which campsite I end up going to. A half-mile trek (each way) from car to camp that seems to be a steep uphill in both directions doesn’t allow for large coolers filled with icy beverages. I’m just not that young/strong/foolish these days. lol On the other hand, I don’t enjoy the car camping nearly as much since it reliably means I’ll be surrounded by other people, and the entire (100%) point of these excursions is getting some solitude to listen to my own thoughts for a while. So, I make two gear lists. Most of it is the same, and the differences are about balancing weight and convenience. I do like some luxury in my camping (really don’t like sleeping directly on the ground, is one good example; I generally take a cot).

I entertain myself while I’m still ill by thinking about the camping trip ahead – when I (hopefully) won’t be ill, and will benefit from having done so much careful planning. (I’m far less likely to get such well-considered planning done ahead of a trip happening with nothing but weeks of robust health and busy-ness in the days leading up to the departure.) So, I think very carefully about that long hike to the favorite camp site…

The signage says it’s 1/3 of a mile, but that appears to be “as the crow flies” – not overland, in steps. LOL

What can I comfortably carry on those steep hills? What do I really expect to need? What can I definitely leave behind (because I just haven’t ever used it if I did take it along)? What will I forget, and regret having done so? How many trips will I have to make to carry everything to camp? Can I reasonably expect to walk that many miles on a hot summer afternoon? Will I over-extend myself and end up forced to rest in camp most of the next day (I’ve got priors). Will I fail to prepare for some predictable misadventure that I knew better than to be unprepared for (looking your way blisters, water, fire management, toilet paper…)?

I chuckle quietly to myself as I listen to the rain fall over my headphones, gazing out my window onto the sunny boards of the fence between houses. Each new trail is a new lesson. Each mile is its own teacher. Each step I get to begin again.