Monday, October 8, 2018

Greece to Egypt and Back—Traveling Safely and Staying Alive in this Great Big Beautiful World

Karfelt, Egypt, Greece, Alonissos, Writer's life, safe, travel-safety
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

"I'd like to visit America," said my driver, the guy the restaurant employs to run customers—free of charge—from the popular port area of Skiathos, up to the restaurant with a stunning view of the sea (Olive Thea), "but it's too dangerous."

"No, it's not," I said.

"Yes," he said, "it is."

My European friends in the backseat are cracking up. 

It's not the first time I've heard this. In fact it's the most common refrain I've gotten from people when they realize I'm American.

"America's not safe," said the young Englishman with alcohol-glazed eyes, so intoxicated he can barely stand. So intoxicated he's stumbled out of a pub near the London Eye to join the crowd of evacuated hotel guests at 3:00 a.m. The fire alarm had gone off because someone lit a cigarette in an adjoining hotel. "I'd go there, but I don't want to get shot."

"We love Americans," said a souvenir vendor at the pyramids in Egypt. "Tell your friends to come here. It's safe here, no one shoots you like in America."

"Tell me," said a Greek taxi driver, "Does America want to take over the world? Do they want to shoot everyone?"

It's ironic, isn't it? Because the first thing people in America say to me when they hear about my travels is, "Is it safe?"

While I was in Egypt this past March I read Rick Steve's book Travel as a Political Act. It's a fascinating and informative read. I loved the statistics, the cold hard facts about travel. How twelve million people a year go to Europe. How we're twice as likely to be killed by a toddler playing with a gun than by a terrorist when traveling.

It shocked me that a 747's worth of people die on American highways each WEEK. 33,000 die on our roads each year. Reducing highway speed by 20 MPH would save thousands of lives, but are we willing to do that? You know we aren't. We take our chances.

Then why are so many of us who wish to visit places we've dreamed of not doing it?

It's because we're afraid. The question is are our fears legitimate? I don't think they are.

What has happened to us? Are we mixing up movies with reality? Do we hear the same horrifying news story again and again, embellishing it with each retelling? Do we stop and think how each and every horrid story we hear hashed and rehashed over and over on the news really only happened once. 

Terrible things happen everywhere. Do you really want to hunker down and live safe and sound and terrified all of your days?

Egypt is the first place I've visited that's very different than where I come from. I loved it. I loved the people. I loved the slower pace. I loved the pyramids and tombs and food. But was I afraid?

Admittedly there were times I was nervous. The first week I had culture shock. The traffic, especially in Cairo, scared the hell out of me. (But so did Boston when I lived there.) 

I'd never been in a predominantly Muslim country before. There I was in cargo trousers and my Agatha Christie linen shirt with all my blond hair riding a camel. Several times a day Adhan sounded the Muslim call to prayer. Do you know how many people harassed me for not being Muslim? None. Nobody cared. I can't wait to go back!

A friend I hung around with during some of my time in Egypt likes to announce she's Jewish. She travels often and likes to see how people react. The majority of her family died in the holocaust. Even though she's a secular person she makes a point of sharing her heritage. In order, she says, to defy stereotypes. 

Not a single person cared who was Christian or Jew. 

In Egypt there's a greater police presence than I'm used to. I was often with a group of Egyptologists, some of who've been traveling there for well over thirty years. It's always like this, they told me. It's safe, they insisted. This is how they employ so many young men. 

After a few days I noticed the friendly smiles of those police and of people greeting me on the streets. I felt the Adhan deep in my bones. It reminds me of the chants I've heard in so many monasteries. Kids and adults hurried to greet me in English. "Hello, beautiful." "Welcome to Egypt." "Welcome, this is your home now." 

But was I afraid? No. Sometimes I was nervous. 

What woman doesn't know that feeling? It's been years since I've been approached by young men on the street. Especially men young enough to be my son. "You look worried," said one who would not go. "Don't be worried."

"Where I come from," I said, "Strange men don't approach women they don't know on the street for any good reason."

"Where I come from," he said, "Women don't walk alone on the street. I'm offering to be your escort so you don't have to walk alone."

The reply startled me, but of course it's the truth. Although I saw plenty of young women walking alone. Most had their hair covered. That's simply how women dress there. Some wore the exact same types of clothes young women wear in the west. Some wore burkas. 

But the fact is I was the stranger who didn't know or follow the rules. I still felt as safe, if not safer, than I feel when traipsing the streets of large cities in America. Maybe it's due to the police presence or maybe it's due to the always polite populace, but I didn't worry about being robbed or pick-pocketed as much. 

In Greece I'm more comfortable traveling solo than I am in the United States.

Not that I'm afraid here, just smartly cautious especially in cities. Greece feels like home to me. Especially in the smaller islands where everyone seems to know everyone else. 

That driver who told me of the dangers of America also teased me for not being Greek, while kindly helping me with my limited and sad attempts at speaking his language. 

"Do not take this wrong," he said, "I do not mean to be rude, but I can tell by the way you sit in that seat that you are a closed and cold-hearted person. You are dead inside."

By now my European friends in the backseat are really enjoying this.

"We Greeks," he said, "We do not talk just with the words. We speak with our hands, with our bodies, with all of us! You come here, every year, and you go to that little boring island where nothing ever happens. Why you go there?"

"Well. It's the perfect place to go when you're dead inside," I said.

"Oh! OH! You cut me! You cut me!" He's using his hands and entire body to show me just how deeply. But we're both laughing and this is the kind of communication I strive for when I travel. I will remind him next year that I'm the cold-hearted writer again. 

S.R. Karfelt
Maybe by then my Greek will be good enough to tell him I've written an entire series of books about heart, or maybe, just maybe I'll keep it all at the bitch witch level. I mean that book did come straight from my cold heart too.

When I travel I find it's important to carry my inner Kahtar warrior, my open-hearted Covenant Keeper, and always, always, Sarah Archer—that witch genetically predisposed to manipulate dark matter in her favor. Above all, I take my pragmatic writer self and remember every day is a story and life isn't about being safe. Life is about living, or did I miss another memo? 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Here We Go Again—A Traveling Writer

Traveling to Greece, solo travel, writers

This Week

Social Media seems full of pumpkin spice lattes and laments for summer to end. Has everyone lost their minds? This summer has had its share of fire and floods, but on the other side of October lies blizzards and cold.

While I stood in line purchasing a couple last minute items for my workshop in Greece, everyone else was making back-to-school purchases. I didn't make eye contact and kept my big mouth shut because Nobody Wants to Hear About My Upcoming Trip to Greece! 

Packing Tips

How do regular mortals pack without needing eight hours and weeks of preparation? Since I'll have to haul my own bags on and off flights out on the blistering hot tarmac, up and down crowded ferry steps, and up flight after flight of wide steps in ancient hillsides, I have plenty of inspiration to pack light. Its the implementation that's the trouble. 

A Mental Floss blog had the best tip I've read in a long time. It said that we pack our fears. What if I need this? What if it gets cold? Who doesn't do that? I take a small suitcase and a carry-on stuffed with the things I absolutely have to have when (if) the airline loses my luggage. That fear cautions me as I pack. Carry on those adapters! Carry on your glasses! Carry on that bottle of Prelief

Even though I'll be gone for a month, I'm taking only four lightweight dresses and three other outfits. That's it. Everything is versatile and can be changed up. I feel like I've earned a Girl Scout badge for it.

Books I've Read Lately

PERSUASION by Jane Austen. Somehow I never read this before. Austen books are thinking books, but in a fun and entertaining way. They're fluff on the outside. This one is an old maid (27) dealing with the man she wanted to marry in her youth (21) coming back into her life. It's not written like books are now—like a movie—it's written in what's commonly referred to as "telling", but it allows the writer to put real depth and commentary into the story. It was good, if you like deep stories.

GHOSTED by Rosie Walsh. California girl Sarah meets Eddie while visiting her parents in England. They have seven days together and learn more about each other than people with seven years. Eddie disappears. As Sarah tries to find him she realizes she doesn't know as much as she thought. This book surprised me, and as a writer myself I have to say not many books surprise me. Nice summer read.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr. This is possibly the best book I've ever read. I listened to it on Audiobook and went right out and bought a hardcover copy. I can tell you it's about a little blind girl in France during WWII. I can tell you it's about a German orphan boy who becomes a Nazi soldier. That doesn't go far enough. This book shows you how small people matter, and how good people can do unspeakable things. It is brilliant. It won a well-deserved Pulitzer. Boerr is a brilliant writer and a lot of work went into this novel. Read it. It's going to be a movie, but that will be akin to someone telling you what Van Gogh's Starry Night looks like. Some things you have to put your eyes on yourself.

Starry Night by Van Gogh

Today I put The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate on my Kindle for my trip. I'm still debating what paperback to take, but I'm leaning toward The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. 


The truth is I thought GF was a fad. Despite having had an autoimmune disease for over a decade now, I didn't pay attention to gluten free until my symptoms became downright miserable. This has been a game changer for me. I cannot believe the difference. All symptoms have lessened by about half.

It's more than not eating bread. Gluten is in everything. It's in salad dressing. It's in your hibachi dinner. It's in miso and soy sauce. Cutting it out takes effort. It's worth it if you have a problem. 

As far as sugar-free, I'm working on it I swear. 


If you're on a flight that has meal service, you can request a gluten-free meal (or another special meal). Order it ahead of time on the website (at least 24 hours ahead). It's usually under Special Service Requests. According to the Delta website (which I'm flying this trip), you're to mention it to the gate agent and again to a flight attendant when you board. I think they'll all be annoyed if you do. I'll just take a banana and apple in case it gets messed up. 

Since I'm flying out of a small airport in New York State I have several connections. I leave New York for Greece early in the morning. First I fly to Detroit. Yes. That's the wrong direction, but I don't make the flights. Then I fly BACK TO NEW YORK. HAHAHAHAHA. It's a different airport though. After that I fly to Athens, Greece. 

Once in Athens I'll stay a couple of days. I'm debating if I can walk up to the Acropolis in full-on ninety plus degree weather to visit the Caryatids again. I love those ladies. 

Next stop after Athens is a flight to Skiathos. If you watch this video of tourists standing beneath landing/taking-off airplanes in Skiathos, well, you'll get a real taste of Greece tourism. 


Skiathos is a touristy island. It has great beaches and a lot to do. Normally I get out of there fast. This year I'm hanging around a bit to do some writerly things. I'm a really bad liar because I can't even think of a single example. Fine. I'm meeting a couple friends and we're going to eat olives and talk books 24/7. When I leave Skiathos it will be by ferry.

My destination is Alonissos and my writing workshop there. It's quieter and I mean it as a compliment if I call it old-fashioned. It's my blue heaven after all. 

Author, S.R. Karfelt
For the next month I won't be on social media other than to post photos to Instagram and, if I can get blogger to trust me from Greece (and not to go into Greek which I cannot read), I'll post some blogs. 

If you're going back to school while I'm there, or if your kids are, I want you to know that eventually you'll get out of school (and so will your kids) and Greece will be right there waiting for you too, like it did for me. Enjoy summer while you can. It's so very fleeting.

So it's okay if you stop with the pumpkin spice crap already, okay?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nobody Wants to Hear About My Upcoming Trip to Greece—But I Can't STFU About It

skiathos, skopelos, athens, karfelt, the shire, writing, finding your voice
The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt 

Sometimes dolphins follow the ferry.

In a bit more than two weeks I leave for my annual trip to Alonissos. Currently I'm annoying the stuffing out of my husband with it. Since I stay a month, everything that I won't be here to do must be done NOW. Right. Now. 

When I return we're having much-needed work done on our house. That means getting all of that organized and ready NOW too.

With vacation approaching like the ping of an ice-cream truck, you can probably imagine how organized and together I am with preparations and scheduling. I can imagine it too. If only it were anywhere near the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants truth. 

At night I can hear the sound of free-range cats and dance parties drifting up from the port. 

My office now looks like the inside of a fairly clean dumpster that's been stuffed with the contents of a library. To expect that to ever change is delusional. It's my method (she says with a straight face without blinking), but I need to organize all the books I'm writing, update everything and get it all in portable and travel mode. Chargers and adapters and flash drives need fished out and readied. Bills paid. Contractors contracted. Schedules prepped. Flights, hotels, and ferries arranged. All the things in order NOW.

I never even knew I liked olives in a seaside cafe beneath a full moon.

It's quite a journey from here in the shire to that quiet island in the Aegean. Each click of the mouse prepping travel plans brings back memories of the place. The race to prep for vacation always makes me long to be there and done with hectic preparations. 

Do you ever stop in the middle of vacation prep and wonder if it is even worth the effort? Alonissos is. 

Sometimes I dream I'm floating around the island. In the air.

Vacation float is why we all go through the hassle of going. It takes time to achieve vacation float. I wish everybody could feel it. The world would be a better place. All the hassle and prep to get to Alonissos is why I stay so long. It takes me three days of travel to get there, but keep in mind I live in the shire and we don't have high-tech things like direct flights. It once took me three days to fly home from Nashville. I think I can drive there in half a day. 

Most people here will decide between flying and driving based on which is faster. DC, Portland, Boston, heck—Orlando, you weigh flying time against driving effort. Driving often wins. There are always connecting flights here. Connections are uncooperative slippery bastards. 

Retsina is an insidious Greek wine with a pine flavor that will bind you to this land. 

There are usually only two airports that connect to the shire's. When you get to your gate coming home, you often know half the people there. It's a small town. Not only do I recognize faces but I could make an educated guess whether they've been to China on business or visiting a grown child in Colorado. I adore that about living here, and I'm a transplant. But when it comes to travel, small town life requires patience.

I'll leave here on a Friday morning and get to Athens on Saturday morning more than twenty-four hours later. That's if all goes according to plan, best case scenario. I spend that Saturday in Athens because I'll be exhausted and I can't get a flight to Skiathos until late anyway. 

In Athens I can walk up to the Acropolis and visit the Caryatids.

Sunday I'll catch a flight to Skiathos. It's a short flight on Olympic Air. I saw Skiathos listed on one of those scariest airports to fly into sites. By scary what they mean is awesome. 

Watch planes land from the rooftop seating of Sofia's Family Restaurant in Skiathos, as the sun sets.

You can eat anything you like at Sofia's because you burned all those calories climbing the steep winding steps of the alleys to get there. Sometimes I don't linger in Skiathos until after my workshop ends. If I'm running behind schedule I share a taxi with strangers from the Skiathos airport and we race straight for the port to catch a ferry. 

There are different kinds of ferries. The hydrofoil skims over the water and the trip is fast. I prefer to take the giant slow one. Its so big the hull is full of trucks and cars. There are several decks. It takes hours of gliding through the sea and stops on Skopelos first. 

Skopelos is where the Mama Mia island is located. It's absolutely gorgeous. The first time I went to my workshop in Greece I couldn't believe my luck. Skopelos makes a cameo appearance in my book HEARTLESS. What were the odds that I'd be next door to it at a writing workshop the year it came out?

Water foams white and arctic blue like peppermint breath mints as the ferry slices the Aegean. I sip cherry juice wearing a straw hat.

The reason I like my slow approach is it's my transition time from busy me to human being. Sometimes I'll meet other writers with the same destination on the ferry. We'll know each other even if we're strangers. A few times I've made friends with other solo female travelers also shunning the more popular islands, in search of the stillness of the Old World that lingers in hidden lavender patches and olive groves of Alonissos.

If I'm very lucky I'll find my float somewhere in the long hours of introspective writing time that's coming. Occasionally I'll sense its approach as my shoulders relax, my breath deepens, and words evaporate from my lips to nest in my fingertips. 

Sure I write all the time, but on Alonissos I write with paper, pencils and magic. It's delicious.

This will be my fourth year attending the WRA workshop. I know the shape of the island from a distance. The ferry will curve outward before turning to approach the big dock. Around me people will hurry to gather their belongings. We'll all lumber down two or three floors into the bowels of the ferry to gather bigger luggage. 

Docking is quick. Trucks and cars disembark alongside people, flooding the Hellenic Seaways dock with chaos. The woman who runs the pansion I stay at meets me at the ferry. She's clever and quick and looks like movie star. Her voice is accented with the strong undertones of hard Greek, "Kali-sperra, Steph-an-ie. Welcome, welcome home." Beside her is the powerhouse who runs WRA. It feels like coming home, and in a way it is—it's my writer home. Like a turtle I carry my writer home on my back at all times, but also like a turtle I remember where I discovered it and long to return every year. 

The beaches are white with salty stones from the sea. I melt into them.  

I get why nobody wants to hear about my trip. Life isn't fair. Holidays are a luxury, especially Greek holidays. My husband has to stay here and work. My kids have nothing to say about a trip their mother takes that is more epic than their young adult vacations. That just goes against the natural order doesn't it? Even writing friends who've attended the workshop in the past don't want to hear about it. No one can go every year. Eventually the pilgrimage ends. 

We pack up our float and hope the airline doesn't ruin it before we get home. I strongly suspect I harbor quite a bit of float within. It just takes quiet to find, and I can't quite find quiet in the chaos of my busy home life. 

Cicadas blast eardrums as we lean knee to knee reading aloud. We talk faster, racing the ferry before it docks and drowns all other sound.

finding your voice, writer's voice, travel, WRA, women reading aloud
S.R. Karfelt

Yet I've had the privilege of being in this place and the honor of meeting some of the most amazing women I've ever known as we write together. Each year we raise each other up. Each year my writing voice grows stronger. Bitch Witch. Nobody Told Me. Each year my speaking voice grows stronger too. 

Perhaps I've now given you a glimpse of why I can't shut up about my amazing float story. Perhaps you have one of your own? I hope you do. If so I don't think you should STFU about it. I think you should share it too, don't you? As a wise woman once told me, don't be afraid to speak even if your voice shakes.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Ugly Truth About Living in the Country

Life is an adventure, think positive, karfelt
The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt

My house is in the middle of ten acres. Half of it is woods. It's surrounded by forests, hills, lakes, and farmland. There are deer, bear, fox, coyote, and more. Know where they all poo? My driveway.

Maybe living off the beaten path is partly due to my introversion, but I swear my husband started this living in the country thing years ago. We were in the south when we bought our first house. I remember a map of the Dallas area spread on a table as we debated where we should house hunt. 

Where would there be open spaces? How far away could we go and still get to work in an hour? We ended up where the suburbs met the coyotes and ranches. 

I had this idyllic vision in mind. It's not quite like that.

I remember beavers taking down every little over-priced tree we'd planted, in one day.

And armadillos rooting through my flower beds.

Cattle regularly escaped from a nearby ranch and grazed in my yard. Sheriffs would come chase them home. 

When I called them because a rabid skunk tried to chew through the fence surrounding the dog kennel, they refused to come. They said, "He's a varmint, Ma'am. Shoot 'em!"

Sometimes an entire colony of bees would land on my house. We couldn't even go outside. I unknowingly called an exterminator. Don't worry, he wouldn't come. 

"You don't kill bees. Just stay inside until they leave."

That was his advice and exactly how I dealt with it. 

You might think you get more fresh air living in the country. That's probably true, but you do have to figure in those times everyone needs to run inside and shut all the windows. 

I remember learning about living outside city limits. It can sometimes mean less regulation and building permits. It was an expensive lesson. 

It's not a good thing when a contractor walks into your attic and looks around and says, "Guess we're outside city limits here. None of this is code."

I remember fire-ants covering the walls inside.

There were always mice. I kept all food in the freezer, safe from ants and rodents. I'm talking flour and cereal too. When my husband trapped one I got upset. Don't kill them! They're so sweet! 

I also remember flipping on the light in the kitchen one night and discovering half a dozen of them playing inside a dollhouse (one was in a little Coupe car), and another half dozen were eating the erasers off the art table.

Death to all mice! I want them out!

My kids found an orange cat. We named her and took her to the vet for shots and fixing. She vanished right after. I suspected coyotes. They always walked the street and gorged themselves on garbage day. If anyone tried to chase them away, they just flipped us the coyote middle-finger and kept on tearing through the trash. 

My husband insisted the cat probably went home. He insists you don't claim stray cats, that they fake their homelessness. He also said if Godzilla walked through the backyard I'd feed him and get him neutered.

Well someone has to!

I'm not sure I would have been surprised had Godzilla walked through my backyard. 

One morning my little boy toddled into the bedroom.
     "Snek!" he said, hopping onto the bed. 
     Without my glasses I squinted into a far corner certain he couldn't be right. Thanks to his 20/20 vision my husband got up and caught the young rattlesnake and removed him. 

Yes. I said rattlesnake. That is country life. 

A group of us would walk early in the morning to avoid the heat. Now and then we ran, but only if someone left a gate open on the bull pasture. Once we passed a poisonous snake on one of the walkers' driveway. She got a shovel and insisted he needed a fast-track to snake heaven, then proceeded to piss him off with that shovel.

I took the shovel and whacked him once with everything I am. He laid there looking like something out of a cartoon, partially flattened in the shape of the shovel.

Damn, she said, Remind me never to make you mad.

I never knew I had it in me either. It took a while for the cold chills and hot flashes to pass. Writing this they're coming back.

It's true though, I am a spider and snake assassin.

But only if one hit job makes me a snake assassin. 

Raves were popular then. Sometimes thousands of people would go to wild parties in the country. The music and drugs would last until dawn. I know this because the bass and police sirens went all night. Also, the arrests would be in the newspaper the next day.

Here in the shire where I live now with my poopy-driveway, we don't have raves. We have pig roasts and firecrackers, maybe some terrified dogs certain the noise means the end of the world. Sometimes there are road races or snowmobiles. There are free-range chickens, roosters, and an occasional pen of pigs. 

In the spring fields are fertilized and you hope for the wind to change direction. Meanwhile you keep your windows closed. Deer eat your landscaping, including all those plants that are supposedly deer-proof. They eat the jack-o-lanterns off your porch at Halloween. They jump in front of your car and sometimes land on the hood. 

You learn that deer hit you more than you hit them.

You get calloused living in the country. 

The first time I hit a deer I cried. The police came and shot it. It weighed on me the second, third, and forth time one again hit my car. By the fifth time I will admit I swore. A lot. 

When my little girl and her friends abandoned the swing-set and ran inside claiming there was a bear, I didn't really believe them. It didn't take me long to believe and rethink—for about the thousandth time—the whole living in the country thing.

Nobody told me there'd be BEARS!

At first I worried about bears. My kids were small. Even if they were inside, would bear come through the windows? Does glass deter bears? By the time I saw them trashing my bird feeders I opened the back door and yelled at them. 

"Those are my mother's day present! GET OUT OF MY YARD!"

The feeders were eight feet high with steel poles set in concrete. I watched a bear grab the pole, pull it to the ground, and lay down to shovel seed more comfortably into his mouth.

I gave up on feeding the birds. Yelling at bears isn't wise.

They did leave when I did it though. Not right away, but with a grunt and a dirty look they heaved to their feet and lumbered back into the woods.

I knew they'd be back. Like when I realize there's a stash of ice-cream in the freezer, animals don't forget a food source.

Last year I gave up on all landscaping. Between the deer standing against my house eating everything, shrews digging under the house so they could live where the food was, and the brutal wind freezing roots to death every winter, it always looked like a brush pile anyway. 

Now it's all been replaced with marble chips. This is my country-friendly landscaping. I've considered a nice heavy concrete fountain, but I'm pretty sure it would backfire. I picture four-hundred Canadian geese moving in.

Currently there are fox living under the garage. They have babies so of course I won't deter them even if I could. Because babies. There's a groundhog too. He I'd deter if I could. The thing looks big enough to saddle. 

Every year my better half plants a garden. He has a six foot fence around it. Every year I watch the deer hop in and out like Santa's magical reindeer. They don't even need a running start. Squirrels rush from plant to plant and take one single bite out of everything that grows. Rabbits use the garden as a nursery. They like the fence. It keeps predators out. 

Only the fence works about as well for predators as it does for rabbits. My dogs, who I always thought were the best dogs ever will snack on baby bunnies. I will cry as hard for baby bunnies as I used to for deer. I've tried chasing the dogs, yelling like a maniac. They just chew faster.

In the city and suburbs you can pretend life is Disney. It is not. 

Robins move into the porch rafters every spring. You might think that'd be cool. I mean they do have those lovely blue eggs and the babies are cute. Know what? Robins potty train their babies to poo out of the nest. I kid you not those little punks scoot to the edge of the nest and hang their birdy bums over it and do their doody. Know where that poo lands? All over your porch.

Other assorted little birds move into the the eaves all the way around the house. If I cave to domesticity and put a wreath on the front door they nest in there too. 

No matter how many times you tell people not to use your front door, eventually your father-in-law will open it and you'll have a distraught Mama Bird flying around your living room. The cat will go berserk. A kid will sob every time the cat lunges for the bird. It will land on your ceiling fan and, you guessed it, poo even while it's riding in circles squawking.

Hornets and wasps will nest in your eaves too. There will be so many carpenter bees that even the exterminator will be impressed. Friends with bee allergies won't even come to your house in summer. Stinging insects will chase you if you try to wash your windows. There's really no point washing them though, because every time the exterminator sprays they'll be covered in streaks of poison.

When you knock hornet nests down it attracts turtles. There's nothing not to like about turtles. It's kind of freaky to see snapping turtles emerge from the muddy ground like some prehistoric baby dinosaur. It's very nature-channel to watch them lumber around snacking on hornet nests. They eat the larvae in them. 

At night the toads come out. You can't drive on your driveway on summer nights. You can't even drive down your street. It'll be covered in toads too. Toads are like remote controls. No two of them are the same. Some of your kids will run up and down the driveway with their friends collecting toads. It will make you think about how if you lived in the city they'd be going to museums right now.

Instead you have an aquarium with a snake living in it inside your house. On rainy nights the fishermen in the family will go outside with headlamps on and collect worms to fish with. 

You don't really have to worry what the neighbors think. They haven't spoken to you in years.

There are thousands of worms on the driveway when it rains. The fishermen will race the cat (who's eating them while you try to collect him and stop him) to keep them in foam coolers in the garage. They know you'll lose it if they try keeping them in the refrigerator again. One of the things you've learned about country life is that worms and that dang snake are escape artists.

Another thing you learn about living in the country is that there's nothing Disney or Hallmark about it. Nature is not very user friendly. Something is always trying to kill and eat something else. They're always fighting for more land too, and they all have a beady eye on your space. Those cute little animals bite, and up
S.R. Karfelt, Disney, Hallmark, writing
S.R. Karfelt floating down the Nile
close they usually have fleas and ticks too. 

Fireflies light up the night. Bats zing through tree branches with the wind. Frogs peep. Coyotes howl. So do the animals they take down in the middle of the night. Living in the country is nothing like I thought it would be so long ago. It's rough and real. What I have learned is to respect it. 

Do I wish I'd known what it was going to be like? Nope. I wouldn't have done it, and where's the adventure in that? Are you ready to join me? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Interstitial Cystitis and Other Auto-Immune Bullshit

There are things I want to do in life and curling up in my glamping cabin in Carolina with raging Interstitial Cystitis isn't one of them. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. One thing I worry about when traveling is getting hit with one of the gremlins of my mostly manageable autoimmune problem (Sjogrens Syndrome).

Interstitial Cystitis is the one I worry about when flying. I make sure I get an aisle seat in case I need to get up twenty times an hour. Sitting too long on a hard airplane seat or getting dehydrated can kick off a flare. Normally I use that as an excuse to upgrade my economy seat to one of the cushier comfort seats.

Delta Comfort you rock!

Sometimes I can't swing an upgrade. Don't you hate how money is so damn finite? Me too. When I can't manage it, I suck it up and fly in the hold or wherever, but I go anyway. Because I'm not letting this thing stop me.

I figure I can be miserable anywhere. It might as well be in Greece!

Or Cleveland, or Charlotte, or wherever the muse takes me. Sometimes that is right here at home in the shire. 

Since dehydration can also be brutal, I drink a ridiculous amount of water when traveling. It's ironic because I probably get up as much to wee that water back out as I would when I'm having an I.C. flare. At least it doesn't feel like lava. 

Is that TMI?

We all have bodies. We all have trouble when they malfunction. Talking about my aches and pains bores me. But I have a point here.

When my mother-in-law, Gummy, was struggling with dementia and Alzheimer's, the one reaction that upset me most was when it was treated as something slightly embarrassing. It was bad enough that she felt ashamed of her mental shortcomings, but to have it treated as something other than a horrible medical condition was more than I could stand.

Not talking about Interstitial Cystitis because of flaming bladder spasms or the need to pee doesn't sit well with me. I will speak of embarrassing truths. When a friend with M.S. whispers to me that she can't go out today because she's having an I.C. flare, and that her doctor told her it's the new normal—I will say what's in my heart and experience.

I don't believe that. There's a lot you can do for this problem. 

Sometimes nothing will work. But sometimes dietary changes or simple over-the-counter meds can make a world of difference. 

So if you have Interstitial Cystitis or bladder spasms (or even frequent trips to the loo), and you've seen a doctor and know it's not a UTI, here's a list of what works for me. I hope it helps you!

  • Some baking soda dissolved in water. It can quickly lower the acidity of your urine. That burning feeling usually goes away when I do this. (If it works ask your doctor for sodium bicarbonate tablets. It's easier to travel with. You don't want to carry a vial of white powder into another country.)
  • There's a product called Prelief. It's OTC, but as I've said before it's difficult to find in stores because us I.C. people buy it all. Meds and I don't work well together, but this is as innocuous as Tums. 
  • White Tums. My urologist recommends these. Again it can help lower the acidity of your urine.
  • Marshmallow Root Tea is purported to help line the bladder, soothing those tiny cuts that make acidic foods bother it. You have to drink it daily.
  • According to The Better Bladder book, I.C. might be an allergic reaction that causes inflammation. They recommend Nettle Tea because it's a natural antihistamine. Since Marshmallow Bark didn't work for me, I've been trying it.
  • Thermacare stick-on heat packs are magical. I get the ones for your neck, but I don't put them on my neck. The heat helps relax the pelvic floor muscles. Go ahead and try to wear it through airport security if you need more excitement in your life. (Tip: It might be smarter to put it on after you go through!)
  • A hot bath is excellent too. 
  • Sleep. You have to sleep. 
My last flare was particularly brutal. Stress definitely makes I.C. worse. At least I now know I can fly during a major flare. I can do this miserable thing and still have my amazing life. While it was awful, it was good to know I could handle it. 

For a couple days afterwards I ate mostly alkaline. That meant celery-cucumber smoothies. There are only so many foods high in alkaline. Unfortunately you can't subsist on them for long. That's when Prelief and baking soda come in. 

For me I find that these life hacks work—except those times when nothing works. 

I try to be scientific about this, but I'm not a scientist. With this problem you never really know if something is working, or if the problem was naturally subsiding. But while in the middle of a wicked flare, when it feels like you drank napalm and everything in your pelvic floor is spasm-ing and sharp, if you take a couple Prelief with a drink of blended cucumber and celery and it lessens, I say you're onto something.

My spasms tend to ebb and flow. I have to be very careful about what I eat. Caffeine drinks, chocolate, and red meat are usually on my hell no list. They are brutal for me. Of course I cheat at times. You know those times when you think you've got this figured out, and having two Chai Lattes suddenly seems like it should be okay? Maybe you imagined or assumed that connection the last ten or twenty times you had it.

This is also known as being a slow learner.

The best I've dealt with this problem is when I don't eat flour, sugar, or red meat. After reading more about auto-immune problems and I.C., I decided to go completely gluten-free. It felt like jumping on a bandwagon, but I do know I have a wheat sensitivity that I like to ignore during pancake season. 

The thing I notice when I eat bread and pancakes is that I get tired. It feels like after Thanksgiving dinner. A nap is necessary. 

It's only been a couple of weeks, but being gluten-free combined with Nettle Tea seems to be helping. At least I haven't had hives or rashes, or even an I.C. flare lately. 

Going sugar free is really tough. At least it is if you're a sugar crack-ho like me.

My body objects. The part of my brain in charge of sugar-highs (about 80% of it I think) keeps reminding me where they keep the chocolate at Target, and that summer is made for ice-cream, and life is short, and what about cake?

Day two and four were headache days this past week. I recognize those headaches as the kind I get whenever I detox from sugar. Lots of water and an occasional Advil helps me. 

Kicking the Sugar Demon deserves its own blog. I'll get back to you on how well I'm doing in a month or so.

Today my brain had a lot to do, but it managed to realize that there is no gluten or sugar in certain kinds of chicken wings.

You have to give your sugar-addicted brain credit when credit is due. Despite the headache, it managed to come up with that. Way to go brain! I gave it some wings. So far so good.

Blogging from the mosquito-infested wilderness
Like I said previously, how do you really know what's working and what is coincidence? I just keep at it, tossing in plenty of setbacks and mistakes. But the important part is that I keep going with it. If I can manage to travel with flaming I.C., I think I can handle living my life without sugar and gluten. Again. I mean it this time. Again. 

If your brain has managed to come up with some excellent life hacks when it comes to giving up sugar or gluten, please share! With I.C. I can't have artificial sweeteners at all. So I can't even try to fake my brain out. Not that it'd fall for that. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Giraffes, Free-Range Children, and I Think I Saw Jane Goodall

karfelt, travel, writerly status, writers life, writing, valencia, spain
The Glitter Globe/

Giraffe's have long black tongues they wrap around leafy branches to tug food into their mouths. At least these Spanish giraffes did. Little kids tore bits of greenery from nearby trees and offered them in hopes of coaxing the animals closer. 

We stood on a wooden bridge over the giraffe's habitat and I waited my turn. Feeding the animals isn't just for kids. They shoved and jostled each other, but I waited. Patience is my superpower. Sooner or later the elephants up ahead will catch someone's attention and they'll hurry off.

It took me most of the morning to walk to the Bio-Park from my hotel. I got lost several times. Since I know no Spanish to ask for directions, I just kept walking. Valencia boasts futuristic bridges and buildings. They're sometimes featured in movies set in the future. But most of the town looks like anywhere USA to my eyes.

The animals at the Bio-Park aren't in cages. They're free-ranging mostly, like the children who are now attempting to entice the giraffes into eating clumps of dirt or the littlest one's hair bows. The giraffes aren't falling for it, so the kids head for the elephants.

Patience is an epic superpower.

Circuses and zoos stress me out. I worry about the animals even while admiring them. Here I worried about myself at first. Something brushed the top of my head as I stood by a tree looking at a map of the Bio-Park. Only then did I notice lemurs moving through the trees above me. 

I loved being so close to the animals, but I've lived on the outskirts of where the deer and the antelope play. I have a healthy respect for animal-human boundaries. As humans we sometimes have differing agendas. When I'm hiking and happen across a mama bear and her cubs, or when I'm pushing a stroller and see a bobcat slinking in the yard next to me—I get nervous.

Once I took my kids to one of those drive-thru zoos in Texas. We rolled down the windows because they provided a bucket of food for the animals. They knew the drill and hurried to the car. The giraffes were polite about it. They scoot lower and both nose and tongue are suddenly through the car window. The ostriches weren't polite. I don't think they know how to share. I loved them both, it's incredible to get so close to them, but I also love my kids and quickly surrendered the entire bucket to the most insistent bird.

Sometimes it's better for everyone just to look and move on.

There was no bucket of food to entice the Valencia giraffes, but my persistence paid off and I patted a nose or two. 

The BioParc gorilla habitat is spectacular. It's wide open spaces and a waterfall. The people path goes through a cave-like area. Heavy glass is the only thing separating us from the gorillas here. Several young men stood on my side making gestures at a large male. Sitting stoically he endured for a time, then suddenly raced after smaller gorillas in the habitat and hit them.

Just like people, apparently gorillas take out their frustration on others sometimes.

I wished there were rules posted about not teasing the animals. As I continued through the cave-like area I came upon another window. A huge gorilla lay sprawled on his side alternately placing a foot or hand against the glass. A woman sat on the other side pressing her hand on it against his. 

For a moment I watched, transfixed. I thought, she looks like Jane Goodall. After a moment I snapped a quick photo and went on my way. Cue me a couple years later now, finally going through thirty thousand photos or so of my travels. As I put together a video to share, I saw that gorilla and woman again. Once more I thought, that really does look like Jane Goodall. 

This time I got on google to see what the odds were. To my surprise she's been at the Bio Park in Valencia. So maybe. Here's the video. My Maybe-Jane is at the 1:45 mark. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Either way it was a serendipitous moment for me. For that gorilla too, I think. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Naughty Pet Stories—The Best Kind (When it's Not Your Pet!)

"Today I noticed a wet spot on the rug and thought, no. No, Pika wouldn't do that. She's been house trained for years. She's a lady." 

"What else could it have been?" I asked my friend who'd called.

"Oh, that's what it was! She peed all over the place. My neighbor told me she has this light. You shine it on the rug and it lights up if your pet has wet on the carpet. I'll send you a Snapchat photo of what I saw."

In which Pika is hardcore busted.

The carpet had to be completely replaced. 

Turns out Pika didn't like to piddle in the cold snow.

I've been framed! I need my lawyer!

Snapchat is one of my favorite things. I like it so much that I had to delete it. The number one thing I miss most is the naughty antics of other people's dogs. But I had to get on with my life. 

I adore pet stories. Especially when it's someone else's pet. My BFF and her Jack Russells help me resist driving straight to the pound and filling my backseat with canines. 

I'd like half a dozen hairy barkers please, and a few cats!

Rocket belongs to my bestie and he's one hell of an excellent mouse hunter. Now I appreciate dogs who aren't above mouse hunting. They refuse to let cats corner that market. You wouldn't think I'd be so callous about mice. As a kid I had a pet mouse who lived in a bird cage that dangled from my ceiling. I used to keep the door to the cage open so he could walk along the top of my bedroom curtains. 

There are grand advantages to living with your grandmother.

These days I live in a house in the woods and I do not want mice on my curtains or in my house at all. My own dear and partially rotten dogs were mouse hunters like Rocket. Only they weren't any good at it. I had two. Radar the Brittany Spaniel and Tex the Beagle. They'd race across the yard with noses to the ground, rooting through dead leaves or clumps of grass, or in the winter, snow. 

They'd find mice too. Especially in winter. Sort of. They just never knew they'd found any. Many times I'd stand beside them while they both had their heads buried under snow coughing and snorting, shivering with the thrill of the hunt. Blind to their success as they rooted. The mouse would race out of her ruined home, running across the white snow. Occasionally a bird of prey flying overhead would swoop down and BAM

Tragic really, unless you live in the country and see ticks and plague when you look at mice—rather than pets or Angelina Ballerina. 

"Tex! Radar! Look! Look! They're getting away!" 

But they never looked up. Mostly the mouse would simply move to a new home and birth thousands of rodent babies safe from my dogs. So while technically they were mouse hunters, they sucked a bit in the follow through. 

Rocket didn't suck.

One fine day Rocket's spidey senses alerted him to the unwanted presence of a mouse in the garage. Game on. He whirlwinded through bikes, shovels, rakes, and gave chase. The mouse hid inside a cardboard box. It didn't stand a chance. Snout snapping, Rocket tore his way through the box with a fury known only to little (but enthusiastic) dogs. 

When BFF managed to grab onto Rocket, his enthusiasm had mysteriously vanished. Breathing hard through his nose he hung his head and drooled. Assuming the mouse was inside the jaws of death per usual, she attempted to pry open his mouth and get it out. But Rocket's jaws wouldn't open. His teeth were clenched firmly together. Suddenly he looked woebegone and miserable. 

BFF realized he wasn't clenching his teeth. They were glued shut. The cardboard box had been made of cardboard and glue. Rocket got enough paper fiber and glue in his teeth that it solidified and stuck them together.

Off to the Vet with Rocket.

Don't worry. He was fine, but Rocket's Vet probably owns at least one vehicle thanks to the proceeds of BFF's Jack Russells alone.

Is there a special glue to unstick a dog's teeth? Does that happen often? How many times in a week do you suppose a Vet gets a dog with his teeth glued shut? 

Once I had a high-maintenance Golden Retriever named Max. One day he ate a brand new leather leash and collar with the metal clip and buckle. The Vet had to go in through the wrong end of the dog to get it out. Surprisingly that wasn't as pricey as you'd think.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a Veterinarian. The truth is that the only reason I wanted to be one was so that I would never run out of new dog stories. I'd have made a horrible Vet. There really isn't enough money for me to ever go up through the wrong end of someone's dog. 

Sorry, folks. There's no way to get that leash out. You'll need to put Anubis's affairs in order.

When I was a kid my grandmother had a pet monkey named Gomer. He was the smartest one in the family. No disrespect intended. They're pretty clever people, but I don't think a single one of them is capable of picking open any lock known to man. That monkey had infinite patience when it came to combination locks or those little key locks.  

Returning home we'd find he'd escaped. There'd be toilet paper unrolled and pillows unstuffed, and pretty much anything done to a home that puts joy into the heart of a evil little monkey.

I always called Gomer a Boomerang Monkey because anytime we gave him away, he came back.

If Google and my memory are to be trusted, he was probably really a Capuchin. Think organ grinder monkey. Maybe a bit shorter. Naked. None of us kids were brave enough to attempt putting clothing on that monkey. 

One day he escaped and after terrorizing the house, he apparently got tired. Because he leaned against the bottom of a bed and tied knots in the fringe decorating the edges of the bedspread. Giving it his all he tied knots in that fringe right around his own neck. Lots of knots.

Gomer had to be wrapped in that bedspread and taken to the Vet just like that. Can you imagine the Vet? There is a shrieking monkey wrapped up and tied inside here. Your mission is to free him without losing a finger. I assume they tranquilized him because when Gomer got upset there was a blood sacrifice and he took no prisoners

You cannot reason with a Boomerang Monkey.

Gomer didn't like his cage, and a good deal of the time he didn't have to be in there. We lived next to a park and Gomer adored perching on top the fence and watching the world go by. A monkey on a fence in the Mid-West attracts attention. If people happened upon him they'd usually rush him squealing, "Monkeeey!"

Gomer would lose his mind. If he got off his leash he'd race up a tree. Sometimes he'd pick a tree in the park or one down by the river. I do recall family taking turns at the bottom of a tree trying to coax him down. It could be my imagination that he sat up there flipping us the bird. But it's probably true that he'd learned that much sign language. 

If Gomer couldn't behave himself he'd have to go to timeout in his cage. Once in there he'd sing sweet chirpy monkey songs of repentance. If you fell for that crap and scooted too near his cage he'd grab a couple handfuls of hair and scream monkey shrieks of I have just taken a child hostage, dammit! You best let me out!

Monkeys have wicked canines and a fierce bite. 

Voldemort's followers had the Dark Mark in Harry Potter. My family had monkey scars. Woe to the person holding the monkey's leash when someone ran toward him shouting about the cute monkey.

Gomer would lose his crap. If you didn't let go of that leash, you'd lose some flesh. 

Yet the only time he ever bit me was that one time I sat on top his cage.

Never ever sit on a monkey's cage.

There are absolute truths in life and that is one. I used to tell my kids Gomer stories when they were little. The moral of the story was usually that monkeys don't belong in cages. They belong in the trees of their homelands. But I'd always end my tales with, "Never, ever, sit on a monkey's cage." I think it has served them well in life. 

The only strange pet my kids had was one pet snake. I called him Houdini because no matter what my son did to his cage he'd escape. Snakes don't really bother me, but seeing that thing slithering down the hallway would give me instant hot flashes. 

My son tried everything to make the snake tank Houdini-proof. That ended up causing my strangest conversation with a Vet.

Yes, hello? I'm wondering if you could tell me how to get duct tape off a snake?

One surefire way to piss off a snake is to soak him in water and "gently" peel duct tape off of him. Nothing says I love my kid more than doing stuff like that. 

By the way, I could hear the Vet laughing while they explained
S.R. Karfelt
Author & Monkey Cage Sitter Survivor
what to do. Fortunately my ten-year-old couldn't. The snake was fine too. Naughty pet stories are only good if they have a happy ending for the pet. They don't have to end so well for the kid who sat on the monkey's cage. People need to learn respect, don't they? 

Since I never became a Vet (much to your relief, I'm sure), and I had to give up Snapchat, I'm running dangerously low on naughty pet stories. If you have a good one, this is the place to share it. Let's put some fun content on the internet—even if yours demanded a blood sacrifice too.