Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Golden Retrievers, Angels, and a Big Little Life

On Black Friday I go to the bookstore. They have autographed editions of bestselling books at Barnes & Noble. I like to pick up a couple to give as Christmas gifts to my favorite people. Like myself. Normally I do this one for you, one for me thing.

First I pretend I'm just getting only a few books and I try to carry them in my arms. After I hit the journal section, and I'm dropping things, I get a basket to drag. 

This year the store manager spotted me and asked if I'd be willing to sign copies of my angel book as they were selling like hotcakes. 

Cue me standing there blankly running through all my books in my mind, and wondering which one she thought was about angels. Both angels and my books selling like hotcakes is what threw me. My books don't sell like hotcakes. When I think about my books I think about my novels or memoir. I've got immortals, warriors, assassins, a bitch witch, and dementia. We walked over to the bookcase where they keep my books and looked at it. 

That's when I spotted the angel book.

It's an anthology.

That's right! I have a story in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul book, Angels All Around. Suddenly it all made sense. Chicken Soup for the Soul books and books about angels make excellent Christmas gifts. I'm not surprised it was selling. Happily I signed every copy in the store before continuing my book-gathering extravaganza. 

After loading so many books into the basket that I had trouble even dragging it, I spotted one more.

A Big Little Life a memoir of a joyful dog named Trixie caught my eye because it was shelved under Philosophy, had been written by Dean Koontz—who writes suspense—and I have a huge weakness for Golden Retrievers.

Years ago when my husband and I were in the middle of moving from Boston to Dallas, he came home with a surprise. It's been ages, many states and babies ago, but I still remember him walking through the door and unzipping his jacket. A Golden Retriever puppy poked his head out. 

We named him Maximillian. He lived in our first house with us and I loved him beyond reason. Goldens are kind and smart. I just visited a friend in Boston who has a Golden. I sat beside it and petted it the entire visit. It was bliss.

It was easy to justify buying another book. I'd give it as a Christmas gift to someone. As soon as I got home I peeked inside and read the first couple of pages. It wasn't what I thought. I expected something sappy and cheesy. I have this thing against stories that are designed to play with your emotions. I swear I can tell a genuine story from one manufactured to sell and become a Major Motion Picture. 

Within an hour I quit trying not to bend the spine too far so that I could still gift the book. This might change how you feel about this writer, but I have a tendency to devour my books. I reread a lot and I multitask. Most of my favorite books look slightly abused, worn, and have a few tea stains on them. 

Go ahead and judge me. It's all true. 

A Big Little Life a memoir of a joyful dog named Trixie by Dean Koontz is surprising. It's not cheesy or campy. It's smart, philosophical, deep, and clever. I absolutely loved it. Trixie was a retired service dog. I liked learning about CCI, Canine Companions for Independence

My all-time favorite Dean Koontz book is Watchers. It's a story about a Golden Retriever who was raised in a lab and has human intelligence. If you haven't read it, it's the kind of book you will want to reread regularly. As I read the memoir I assumed that Trixie is who inspired the author to write Watchers. But Watchers had been written many years before Dean Koontz had a dog. 

If you need some holiday escapism and want to give yourself a treat, read them both. Now that I've mentioned Watchers, I guess I need to read it again too. 

I wish I'd thought to take a selfie with my friend's Golden, Kona. Here's a picture of Kona though, and that's the important part.

If you read the books, let me know what you think, and if you'd like to keep up with my big little life, be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter (via the contact form, bottom right of this blog).

Wishing you joy in your own big little life, until next time.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Eighteen Years of Vestibular Migraine—Never Ask Why I Cuss

The Glitter Globe/Stephanie Karfelt

The Gift of an Inappropriate Sense of Humor

Most of the time I prefer to laugh than cry. That often includes laughter about some seriously sucky things. Inappropriate laughter is my superpower.

I figure if I'm laughing about my own pain, it's allowed. 

If I'm laughing about someone else's pain, it's not. I hope I don't do that.

A good friend of mine died from cancer a couple years ago. Toward the end he had to endure some vertigo. How the hell do you cope with this all the time? he asked. The answer is simple, I don't have to die from it. 

The hard part is I have to live with it 

I'll take living with it as opposed to dying any day. I have books to write and a life to live, and I'm thankful I get to live it despite this shit vertigo problem

When I first got it I didn't cope so well. I ran from doctor to doctor. When they were useless, and they were, I researched it myself and asked for test after test. It cost a boatload of money. Absolutely nothing good came of it. Sometimes I laid in my bed and cried. 

That's not entirely true. Crying made it worse, so I didn't even have that. I laid there wanting to cry and not daring to. I was sure I was dying. I was certain that if I could figure out what I had that there would be a cure.

Eventually, after years of freaking out and developing high anxiety—which seems to come hand in hand with living a dizzy life—I decided I wanted my life back.

How I got my life back

It wasn't simple. I was lucky. My husband is a bit like Mr. Spock in Star Trek. He actually says, "That's not logical," more than any 100% human should ever say. Isn't that something only Vulcans say regularly? 

Instead of annoying the heck out of me, it helped me through the early years of vertigo. No matter how many times a doctor told me I wasn't dying I didn't believe them. I could hardly walk down the hall or bend my head to shave my legs. For about six months in 2001 the only place I went was to another doctor appointment.

My Spockish husband argued all my dying worries. He'd sit beside me on the bed where I half sat not moving my head, and listen to me repeat my worries over and over.

When the dizziness slowed and began to skip entire days in a row, I went to see a therapist. The reason I went to see the therapist wasn't for coping skills. I actually went to see a therapist so that I could make him listen to me talk about my dizziness and what it might or might not be.

At some point I'd realized that if I didn't stop bouncing those worries off my husband that I was going to drive him mad. For an hour a week I'd sit there and tell that therapist all the details of when I got dizzy that week. At least once I caught his eyelids drooping and he nearly nodded off.

Not kidding.

I couldn't believe it. It didn't matter. I kept talking to him. It's what I needed. Besides the conjecture of what I felt like and what it might or might not be, I also attended Physical Therapy for vertigo.

Stuff that helped

P.T. was the most useful thing I've done for this problem. I learned how to shave my legs when I'm dizzy. I can't do it when it's really bad, full-on spinning, but most of the time I can. If you have chronic dizziness, I highly recommend Physical Therapy.

Thanks to it I'm EXCELLENT at spotting. When I don't have dizziness my aim is spot on! 

Meds were FOR ME a grab bag of hell. No joke. It made everything worse. WAY worse. Heading for the E.R. in an ambulance worse. Tachycardia and nitro worse. Double your blood pressure worse. I had completely opposite reactions to migraine meds. So I hesitate to recommend anything, but in the interest of being candid I have to be honest. 

A small dose of diazepam (valium) did help. It has to be minuscule and taken daily. I'm not sure why it helps. I read articles that says it suppresses the sympathetic nervous system. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. All I know is that it did work for me, BUT it can be highly addictive AND if you take a smidgen too much (I always cut my lowest dose pills in half and took it once a day), you will SPIN LIKE MAD.

Surely there's no way someone with Vestibular Migraine will risk anything that will increase the spinning. I think there needs to be a study of us to see if anyone with V.M. has gotten addicted to diazepam when taking it for this problem. Sheer terror wouldn't allow it in my opinion. 

But what do I know?

Since I've never had a drug do anything but make everything incredibly painful, far worse, and expensive (except diazepam), I'm the last one to understand drug addiction.


I took diazepam for a couple of years. Then I went through a period when my dizziness seemed worse and I was getting full on spinning several times a week. I read that I should never just stop diazepam cold turkey, but I couldn't cut the pills any smaller to step down any slower so I just quit. No, I didn't tell my doctor I was doing that. But SIDE NOTE TO DOCTORS—the reason patients end up googling important things is because calling you for two weeks doesn't result in a call back.

Also, I'm a terrible patient after all the years of this. Please don't follow the example of some chick on the internet if you're going through this. Listen to your doctor and follow their advice. I'm just being honest here.

It's been years since I took diazepam now, but I still carry a bottle with me when I travel in case it gets bad. When it does get bad I don't take it though, for fear it will make it worse. I still carry it. It's more of a talisman now. 

At some point deep into the spinning years I realized I was getting used to being dizzy. Mind you by then I had stretches of time without vertigo. There are varying degrees of it too. You can't just deal with full-on spinning. You can't move your head or walk with it. I still sit in bed when that happens and wait for the bobbing to stop.

That bobbing spinning is why I call my blog The Glitter Globe. That's what it feels like. It's like your brain is swirling around in a pool of liquid. Remember when you'd spin as a kid so you could have that feeling? It's like that only faster. It's zero fun and completely out of control and it won't stop. 

There are likely as many presentations of dizzy as there are brains affected by vertigo. I personally know only one other person who has Vestibular Migraine. Sometimes when I'm going through a spate of them I'll compare stories with her. It helps.

Emotional Support besides Therapy

Online I joined a support group. I'd forgotten how bad it was at first. How much you want a cure. How hard you search. So many people are desperate for someone to listen to them and to get some reassurance that they'll be okay. So many people are afraid that doctors/family/friends don't believe them.

I'd forgotten all of that. It's hard when you look perfectly healthy. It's hard when all your tests are stellar. Not that you wouldn't want them to be anything else! You just want to be cured and going to the doctor for this is incredibly frustrating. After a couple of years I decided if you go to the doctor without a bone sticking out of your flesh it's tough to get anyone in the medical field's attention. 

Now I really don't care to convince anyone, doctor or otherwise. I can't be bothered with it. I've wasted enough time on it. Now my time is spent living and coping with this shit problem when it crops up, and it does. Somehow it always catches me by surprise. Somehow I still try to figure out what I did to cause it. Did I have caffeine? Did I have gluten? Sugar? Meat? Did I skip a meal and low blood sugar kicked off a migraine?


Recently someone said to me in an aside, you know your dizziness is probably just anxiety. For a moment I just sat there a bit stunned. For starters if it was anxiety that isn't a nothing problem. Stress will kill your ass. Yet after eighteen years of fearing flying dreams because I'll wake up to a spinning room, or throwing back my head to laugh and nearly losing my balance, or sitting in a classroom and grabbing onto the chairs in front of me when everything starts to roll backward in my periphery, I can confidently say Vestibular Migraine comes and goes with no rhyme or reason that I can track. I've tried.

It's NOT anxiety, but it sure as freaking hell CAUSES anxiety. 

Anxiety makes everything worse, but V.M. is just as likely to gob-smack me when I'm blissfully happy.

It's difficult when you're looking for support. That's why it helps to talk to people who have V.M. too. Anyone who lives it will understand. What I can offer up is that eventually the bad spinning fades for now. You can learn to cope. People are amazing. You are amazing. We can get used to anything. I've been able to skydive, hike the Grand Canyon, and occasionally travel the world solo. Yes, vertigo does blindside me at the most inconvenient times now and then. 

Know what? You deal when you have to

Don't give it your time when you don't have to. Even when vertigo hit me in Greece I simply took a day to sit in my hotel room alone and cuss to myself. When it hits I'm more likely to take it in stride now. I'm sorry to say I'm used to it. There are times it still freaks me out and I still try to figure out what I did to cause it. I think as humans we try to control our environment by knowing the reasons for things and fixing them. Maybe sometimes there is no reason. Or maybe there is a reason deep in our brains but there's nothing to be done for it. Maybe sometimes instead of fixing it you have to deal with it. It's not fair, but that shouldn't come as a surprise. What about real life is fair? 

Dude, I write fiction for a reason.

The people close to me try to be supportive now. Maybe those who weren't have fallen by the wayside. My logical husband listens if I need to go over what might have brought it on for the millionth time. He's helped me deal all of these years. The man might be part Vulcan but it turns out I'm into that. 

Recently I thought I'd have to cancel an out of town concert because of vertigo. There's no driving with a spinning migraine. Even when it stops I'm cautious for several days. My BFF offered to come get me and drive me. She lives in another state. She actually drove here to the shire and got me and took me to the concert and drove me home the next day.

The most important part

You don't need everyone to believe you or understand. Some people
have their own limitations or problems to deal with. Some people
Skydiving, living, beautiful life
It wasn't a vertigo day and this was fun.
are acquaintances more than friends no matter how much you love them. You have to believe you, even if you don't want to deal with it.

If you believe in yourself, the people who really love you will follow.  

The most important thing is that you can get back to that wonderful life of yours.  Vestibular Migraine is just a nasty glitch in your beautiful life and fortunately for us, we get to live.

Links to other Vestibular Migraine Blogs:

Vestibular Migraine is the Devil

It's my Vertigo Anniversary

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

2019 Walk to End Alzheimer's—TEAM GUMMY

Nobody Told Me Love in the Time of Dementia, Karfelt
The Glitter Globe/S.R. Karfelt

You're Invited

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Eldridge Park

Elmira, New York

10:00 a.m.




to the Alzheimer's Association,

and join our fight to help stop this disease.

Two Beasts. Alzheimer's and the Stairmaster.

If you can, please register to walk with us or make a contribution
Saffi, Karfelt, Gummy, Nobody Told Me love in the time of dementia
Gummy & Saffi
directly to the Alzheimer's Association in honor of Gummy. 

Together we can do something about this disease. I know this because as Gummy taught me, people are amazing. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Circe by Madeline Miller—My Latest Good Read

S.R. Karfelt, Books, Stephanie Karfelt, read, tbr
Another one for your TBR pile!

First, Bibliophile Details

I read Circe in hardcover. I'd also put a copy on my Kindle App. It's something I often do in case I go on a trip in the middle of my book. In this case I never opened the Kindle copy. I got the book from the Book of the Month Club. The subscription was a gift. 

It's a Little, Brown and Company book. The cover is matte and pleasant to the touch. The paper is a nice quality and the pages are easy to turn. Reading it was a pleasant visceral experience.

Beware, there be spoilers ahead

Circe is about the immortal goddess, daughter of Helios. The story world is one readers will be familiar with if they know their Greek myths. Even if you've never read them you'll probably know more than you realize from movies and pop culture. 

The author does a lovely job of giving it her own twist and provides excellent details about the hierarchy of the gods from Kronos to Zeus, and from Titans to the "new-squeaking gods upon Olympus who had not seen the making of the world". 

The details are delicious and the fate of the nymphs brings an excellent arterial vein take on subjugated females to the tale.

The Ugly Truth

Immortality is an idea that's intrigued me since I wrote my immortal warrior story. So I loved Miller's ruthless, spoiled, childish gods. They are heartless to each other. There's no love between them. They're cruel and delight in inflicting misery on each other. 

It makes sense to me that an immortal would lack empathy, but occasionally the chronic meanness was a heavy read.

Circe is a goddess and nymph with less than perfect looks and no discernible talents. The other gods can barely tolerate her. She's loyal but aware of her situation and reads her people well. 

After wreaking revenge on a fellow nymph Circe gets banished to a Greek Island. (That's my personal dream scenario. What god do I need to offend for that?)

You Go Girl

Most of Circe's life passes alone on that isolated island. She discovers her strengths and weaknesses there. Her father is Helios who rides his chariot across the sky as the sun each day. He can see her if he cares to, so he and other gods can know what she's up to though they ignore her even when she needs help.

Shipwrecked mortals occasionally knock on her door. Circe has a weakness for them though they disappoint her possibly more than the gods did. 

What worked for me was both the world Miller detailed and Circe's depth. She recognizes her faults as well as the faults of those around her. Despite having the ability to eternally be as selfish or comfortable as the other gods she constantly searches for meaning and growth despite the judgement and misery she brings on herself. 

Not that she's perfect. She has a real talent for vengeance. 

I'd give it four stars

The five star system doesn't work for me. Since I write too I always see the hard work behind the story and want to give five stars for
Book review, the glitter globe, reading
Stephanie Karfelt
that. Yet I think of all the stellar literature I've had the pleasure to read and drop it down a notch to be fair. 

Circe is a good solid read. I'm glad I read it and I enjoyed it. If you're into mythology you'll want to dig in. 

Next! Bring on another hardcover!

You and I both know I'm chapters into that next book already, but we'll talk about that one another day. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

One Tenacious Bitch—Three Side Effects of Writing for Publication

Three Things Writing Takes, Karfelt, Writerly Status
S.R. Karfelt/The Glitter Globe

1.) Just Doing It Isn't Pretty

There was a time not so long ago when I'd have cringed to call myself a tenacious bitch by any definition of the word bitch. Female dog, meaning you're what? Rabid? Aggressive? Protective? Bitchy dogs are usually protecting their puppies. There's also bitch as in bitching, meaning complaining. A harpy. A nag. All negative.

Tough then. I'll own it now. Consider my stories my puppies. I have to fight for my time with them. Know what else? I'll bet harpies get the job done. 

It took me a while to embrace my inner bitch and give her the respect she's earned. I think I'm there. 

She's fearless. I love myself as the tenacious bitch I've grown to be.

2.) Writing means TAKING the time, MAKING the time, not WAITING for the time.

I work hard. Whenever I say that my mind flashes to that scene in Chevy Chase's Christmas Vacation when Audrey Griswold says, "He worked really hard, Grandma" and the Grandpa Art goes, "So does a washing machine."

Sometimes I do work hard like a washing machine. Churning out load after load of shitty drafts, getting nowhere. Sometimes I blog to the void with no responses. Sometimes I network or make contacts to no avail and waste time barking up the wrong trees and chasing my tail. But sometimes I work hard like a smarter machine—let's say The Terminator. I know what I want and I just keep moving forward. 

What I want is more readers. I want my own clan of readers. I want feedback for my work. I give up a lot for that goal and I work smart for it. Sometimes I tell myself I don't have to work this hard. It's a choice. I gave up an excellent parking spot for this terminator washing machine gig.

But the truth is I do have to work this hard. It's the only way to get it done. THIS writing thing haunts me. It's what I've always wanted to do. I see story worlds when I fall asleep at night and when I wake in the morning. Story whispers to me while I'm going about my business in the real world. My husband is always quick to say, "Hey! Where'd you go?" 

How does he know? Do I drool or something?

There's a cost to writing so much, making it publishable, and getting it published. Treating it like the job I've always wanted is how I get it done. 

3.) Writing Requires Sacrifice. Sacrifice isn't Painless.

Mostly I ask for grace from my family, but I lose friends quick as I make them. I can't keep up with everything. I'm not a good friend. I can't be. I put my writing first. Some people can handle that. Most can't. 

I want to write. I need to. This is my thing. My dream, my passion, my life's work. 

I love my friends, but my family comes first. Writing second. No excuses, no sorry, no time for long goodbyes. Do I feel like a bitch for it? No. Regret? Sure, but I've made my choice.

I write. It's what I do.

Writerly Status, Tenacious, Writing, Sacrifice

This week I had a spate of vestibular migraine. It's been a while since I had such terrible ones. I'd forgotten. They really are the devil. I should not be up writing at 2:34 a.m., I should be sleeping but I do this so I can get the job done. If that require one tenacious bitch, okay. Sometimes the cost is more than I want to pay. I pay it anyway. I've made my choice. You in?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

My Angelic Book Release—and Why I Write for Chicken Soup for the Soul

Stephanie Karfelt, Books, Angels, Writing, New Release

After writing Nobody Told Me Love in the Time of Dementia my busy story brain got even busier. There were so many other true stories I wanted to share. There were also new opportunities to explore. All that behind the scenes work takes time.

There isn't enough time to write all the novels I wanted to write. But I remembered something I read that Stephen King said. It's about how writers tend to get stuck on the idea of writing novels and forget about short stories.

Once I started thinking about short stories I really got into it. I can make time for short stories! Putting them into an anthology, one where someone else did all the behind the scenes work seemed like the PERFECT solution. 

Chicken Soup for the Soul seemed like the PERFECT solution. 

So here it is.

My first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. My first angel book. The story is true. I have a fairly scientific mind too, so after you read it I'd love to know what you think. Do you believe in angels? 

Chicken Soup sent me an entire box of books and I've already
given them all away! The book releases August 27th and is for sale wherever books are sold. If you'd like to get in on my giveaways, keep up on book-signings, and what's new, send me an email at to sign up for my monthly newsletter. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

One Year Gluten Free Changed Everything—and I Used to Think it was a Bunch of B.S.

For years I thought of gluten-free as a bunch of B.S. and a fad. That's simply based on my own jaded perception of dieting and nutrition. I got sick of the ever-changing healthy/not healthy information shoved down my consumer throat. 

Boy, was I wrong about gluten.

I don't have Celiac Disease and I believed what I heard and read that it was the only real reason to avoid gluten. I never noticed gluten particularly upsetting my stomach, but I'm pretty good at ignoring symptoms when I'm busy. 

Then one fine day I was reading The Better Bladder Book—I'm sure you've read it—because I'd developed Interstitial Cystitis and it was getting worse. The author casually commented that if you have Sjogren's Syndrome (I have a mild case) you shouldn't eat gluten. 

For a couple minutes I sat there trying to recall how long I've had Sjogrens. I stopped tallying at the ten year mark. As Gummy would say, NOBODY TOLD ME. Really they never had, but to be fair I've not seen that doctor since, well, let's not get mathy about it.

I read that book last April and I tried to give up gluten immediately. By tried I mean I stopped eating things with bread and flour. It took me about six weeks or so to realize there's a lot more to going gluten-free. There's gluten in everything: salad dressing, malt, additives, preservatives, dried fruit sometimes (flour on the conveyor belt), CHEESE now and then, meat sometimes, omelettes occasionally, etc.

Gluten is in everything like Corn Syrup used to be.

Before I'd eliminated all gluten from my diet I went through a couple weeks of abject misery with my flaming Interstitial Cystitis. While traveling. It had been progressively getting worse and I was seeing a specialist. Then something miraculous happened.

By last June and about a week after I eliminated ALL TRACE of gluten from my diet the I.C. bladder spasms stopped completely. It's been over a year now and I've not had them one time. Not. Once. They had been stealing about three days a week from my life. Then they stopped. 

I Could NOT Believe it!

My Urologist could not believe it either. I'd seen her quarterly and this spring we realized it's been nearly a year since I had a single episode of flaming bloody wee. *insert hallelujah choir here*

She told me I didn't have to come back anymore. I graduated.

You know how annoying ex-smokers are about secondhand smoke? I'm now way worse than that about gluten. I don't even want to go out to eat anymore. It's a hassle and a surefire way to inadvertently  get gluten. But between travel and social situations it's unavoidable. Usually I research the restaurant ahead, ask when I arrive—if they can accommodate gluten allergies—and quiz the poor waiter.

ARE YOU SURE, I say in my Spanish Inquisition tone.

One of my kids said, "MOM, please stop telling total strangers you'll piss blood if you eat gluten."

Okay, I don't say PISS. But I need them to know I'm not kidding! I stopped saying pee though and have substituted it with internal bleeding. I mean your bladder is internal, right? 

The cool thing, besides being healed OMG, is that I don't miss bread or cake or cookies or anything that's gluten. It feels like poison to me now. Maybe it's just me but I find flaming piss to be quite inspirational. 

Sorry, sorry.

That was a little funny though, right? Now I've been giving milk and sugar the stank eye and wondering if that would help with the vestibular migraine. I mean it's worth a try isn't it? The only thing holding me back is CHAI LATTES because CHAI LATTES. 

Tell me you understand. If you don't, sorry about the health-related post. I have to share my gluten success story for the other canaries. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

My Epic Random & Lazy Fashionista Self—Confessions of an Introverted Shopper

S.R. Karfelt, Stephanie Karfelt, travel, writer

There's a brand of clothes on Amazon called Sakka that I've taken a liking to. It's a bit Bohemian and summery, and the price is right. They don't wash easily, and the color fades, but that suits a summer love doesn't it? 

Last fall I was all over PattyBoutik, also available on Amazon. Her tops are longish and fitted. They're also a comfy cotton, unlike the lightweight flowy tops and dresses by Sakka. 

It's easy to be a fan of both brands. They're comfortable and ordering them is easy.

My favorite thing to wear is a pair of ancient Levi's—something so old and thin that you can wear them on ninety degree days and it feels like comfy cotton. I like them with an extra long sleeveless tank top in summer, and a long-sleeve t-shirt in cold months. But I'm trying to step-up my wardrobe a bit. 

Comfort is my big motivator. I've gained weight but feel no obligation to cover my pasty arms. While shopping with a friend she mentioned how tunics hide the bum. I shared my uncooperative fashion nature and admitted I felt no need to hide mine. Sure it used to look better, but if you don't like it I don't really care. Look at your own backside.

It's mine, not yours. 

There's this thing about being female that I just can't get on-board with. You can survive terrible things, become independent and successful in all areas of life, and write books about it—but dammit, woman, why's your arms floppy?

Being strong is what I ask of my body. Can I lift up small children? Can I take the stairs two at a time? Can I pull myself back into the canoe? Maybe not that last one so much very well, but you get my drift.

Despite the super-strength in my massive calves and soft arms, I'm still interested in comfortable clothes that look nice. They make me happy. I'm reading that Walter Isaacson book on Leonardo da Vinci. He liked to wear rose tunics and looked dashing sporting curls. We humans are a vain lot, and not much has changed since his time (he was born in 1452).

I like new clothes for special occasions and sometimes for my travels. In Egypt I settled for cotton t-shirts and capris in olive and stone. They're excellent for climbing pyramids, camels, and into tombs. I thought they gave me a rather Raiders of the Lost Ark look as I dug them out of the bowels of my closet just before my flight. On the way home, I left them behind. Sometimes I do that when I pack light and wear the same things over and over. 

Yes, I literally have worn favorite clothes to death. 

Like you haven't. My favorite white blouse had become one with the desert. It was never going to be white again. Usually when I travel I take a few outfits and shop for something new wherever I go. Last time I went to London, I took my favorite autumn clothes from here in the shire—short suede boots, epic jeans, and my coolest blue plaid jacket. I definitely looked like country mouse hitting the big city.

My London friend said, "Are you wearing that?" when we dressed to go out, giving my AWESOME BOOTS the stank eye. 

When I went back to London a couple months later I knew the rules. It's like in New York City. You can't go wrong wearing all black. You're looking chic now, country mouse.

In Greece I know how to dress, although I've made the mistake of taking jeans in summer. I wear lightweight jeans in the Arizona desert all the time. But it's defense against prickly cacti.

Light flowing clothing is what you want in Greece in summer. Something comfortable in blaring white heat. The summer sun there is so brilliant that it effects my vision. One summer I bought a solid silver bracelet. I like the whiter silver they sell in Greece and pick a new piece each visit. Know why that particular bracelet looked so white? It is white. I didn't notice the decorative white paint until I was on the plane home.

Long ago I used to pack for a trip far ahead. Now I tend to notice that the calendar has rolled into a travel month and I tear through my closet hoping for miracles. The little mall here in the shire has lost store after store, but I race down there full of misplaced hope. 

Shopping isn't my thing, but when I do go through the hassle of getting into a store I buy like it's my job. I might need clothes for other things this year so I stock up. That way I don't have to come back! 

By the time I get home from the maul, all the energy has been sucked from my body. I don't have the strength to look at that stuff again. I throw the bags into my closet. Later I'll pack them for a trip with the tags still on. That's sometimes a problem if I didn't try them on to begin with.

Last summer my workshop trip to Greece was later in the year. But I went to the mall early in anticipation, and because I was running dangerously low on everyday tank tops. Hoping to avoid ever having to shop again I bought one in every color. 

This week I hit Amazon because I've about worn those tops out and even that store has closed now. It's 3:30 a.m. now and I just ordered a couple more tops and a pair of over-priced jeans that reviewers say are so thin they're perfect for summer. How could I resist?

The thing about online shopping that I like best are REVIEWS. Does the dye rub off? Does it fall apart in the wash? Is it comfortable? That's what appeals to me. You'd think I was picking a surgeon I'm so picky about my Amazon and online purchases. I'm not sure it takes me any less time than going to a store. I even impulse buy. 

Yes, since you asked, I could use an agate pyramid!

At the mall I honestly just want to get out as soon as possible. The layout of the stores sucks my life force. I detest the ones that are mazes and force you deeper into the belly of the beast when all you want are underthings. 

That's why I often stick with brands I know and online shopping. Levi's are comfortable, or old ones are. That's again why I wind up shopping online. It's peaceful and efficient and I can find what I need. 

Know what would draw me into a brick and mortar shop over online shopping? Besides if the store carried useful and traditional styles over so much low-quality fluff? Helpful sales staff—that doesn't mean feigned friendliness. Mandatory forced fake enthusiasm from employees doesn't work for me. Sometimes it borders on mania. Customers, like all people, know when you don't mean it. Being polite is enough, being honest is even better. 

It does bother me to see malls shutting down, and I briefly
reconsider online shopping. I do shop local when I can, but here in the shire that is almost exclusively specialty shops. As always a single trip to the dying mall tends to send me right back online. Even when I go into Victoria's Secret or a local shoe store I often end up ordering what I wanted that wasn't in the store. Business is a matter of meeting economic need isn't it? The onus has to be on the shops and businesses. I dream of a store with quality clothing and useful products that's very different from most mega mall shops. Is it me? How guilty do you feel about online shopping? Any other shopping introverts out there? 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

That One Time I Got Stranded on the Island of Skiathos in Greece

Without naming names I can tell you that once I got stuck behind the Disney Electric Light Parade in Disneyland California. As Aladdin flew by on his magic carpet and Cinderella waved from her carriage, the preschoolers I was with fell to the ground and sobbed out the injustices of their lives. Their heartless mother laughed and laughed with zero pity in her heart. 

Don't you wish you could be stuck in Disneyland right now?

Every summer I go to a writing workshop on a tiny island in the Aegean Sea. The workshop is hard work. Getting there is hard work. To get there this year I'll be flying from a small airport in New York to Detroit. Then I'll fly from Detroit to Chicago. After that it's an overnight flight from Chicago to Athens, Greece. Mind you before I leave Chicago I'll have been traveling for twelve hours already.

When I get to Athens I'll stay at the Airport Sofitel. After twenty-four hours of travel it's time to sleep. The next day I fly from Athens to the island of Skiathos. It's a popular tourist destination for parts of Europe. I meet people from England, Germany, and Italy there. 

Depending on my flight from Athens and the ferry schedule, sometimes I spend a night in Skiathos. I like to stay around the port area. I walk along Papadiamanti Street and the sea. It's very touristy with yogurt shops and tavernas. There are kababs of chicken souvlaki, blindingly strong cups of Greek coffee, and places to buy a wide brimmed hat to wear on the ferry. 

Like many towns in Europe the streets are filled with pedestrians but SURPRISE it is a road too so watch out for scooters and vehicles while you shop or use the ATM. 

Usually I stay at the Aretousa, Filoxenia, Hotel Kostis, or Meltemi. Sometimes the stars align just so and after a few hours of wandering the port I can catch a ferry to Alonissos the same day. 

There are slow ferries and fast ferries/hydrofoils. The slow ones are huge and filled with cars and trucks ferrying between islands. I like to slather myself in sunscreen, plop on a hat and sit outside on the slow ferry and watch the sea as we stop by Skopelos (of Mama Mia island fame). Sometimes dolphins swim the ferry wake. 

No matter how long it takes me to get to this point I always know that it's all been worth the effort as the stress of a long journey drowns behind me in ferry wake the color of wintergreen breath mints. 

Eventually we arrive in the port of Alonissos. Gathering luggage and disembarking is chaotic, but this place feels like home. 

The return journey is the same thing in reverse. It's not nearly as refreshing though—leaving is always hard. I get nostalgic, farewell monk seals, farewell to my balcony over the port, farewell writers, farewell Aegean blues, dolphins, tomatoes, and lavender.

Skiathos seems loud and abrasive now, something to be endured after my weeks of floating and writing. But I make my way to the Skiathos airport and drift to my seat at the gate and wait, wait, wait. 

Once after several delays my flight never arrived. Cancelled. My vacation float vanished that quickly. I had a hotel in Athens that night and an early morning flight in the morning. That flight would be airborne before I could get tomorrow's flight out of Skiathos.

I was STRANDED in Greece, TRAPPED on Skiathos. I took it better than those preschoolers at Disney. On the outside.

My hotel in Athens was non-refundable. I'd chosen the cheaper fare. My Greek travel agent took my call at nearly midnight, apologizing though he'd done nothing wrong and booking me a hotel for tomorrow. I tried to call my international airline's 800 number to change that flight home. Those numbers don't work internationally. They're for the USA only.

Around me airline employees began the slow process of re-booking people. There was no quick computer processing. There was literal paperwork going on. People rudely fussed when instructions were given first in Greek, "WHY AREN'T THEY SPEAKING ENGLISH?" This amused me since we were in Greece! Don't blame that comment on Ugly American Syndrome either. I was the only one and I'd lost all hope of going anywhere fast. 

Eventually I was the last person there, still trying to contact my international airline to re-book. I got caught in a loop. I couldn't dial an 800 number from Greece, but I couldn't dial the international number from my American cell phone either. One of the Skiathos employees let me use their phone. I got a new flight to the US leaving in a few days. 

Now I was officially STUCK in GREECE. tee-hee. Let's be real, this is kind of my goal in life. 

Now I had plenty of time, except the lights were being dimmed in the Skiathos airport and employees were leaving. Someone opened their wallet and handed me cash—not vouchers—for dinner. They put me in a lone taxi back to the port area and gave me a hotel to
stay at. That's how I discovered the Meltemi hotel. 

Despite the late hour the port area was in full swing. I picked up bottles of water, dragged my luggage up three flights of stairs to the FIRST floor and dropped into bed. TRAPPED in Greece. I fell asleep watching feet walk up and down the old stone steps outside my window. It was the best night. Ever.

Nothing against Detroit or Philadelphia, but they've got NOTHING on getting stuck somewhere when your flight gets cancelled. Do you feel my joy? Or was that time you got stuck somewhere not wonderful? Dish.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

My Balcony on Alonissos is Magic but The Floor of My Closet Kinda Rocks Too—What Matters Most

At the end of the book Me Before You by JoJo Moyes the main character goes to Paris to sit at a table in an outdoor cafe and experience something profound. I'd tell you what it was, but aside from her acquiring the resources to do it I didn't get it. 

It's not that sitting in an outdoor cafe in a foreign country can't be great, it's a lot of fun. It's not that you can't experience personal growth there, because I think travel is great that way. You see another culture, you get a bigger perspective of the world, you endure the humiliation of air travel. Travel is a great growth experience.

Until 2015 the bulk of my travel was engineering or writing conferences. There was the rare trip across the border into Mexico, and many times I got dragged to Canada to watch my family fish. I usually sat in a cabin under a mosquito net and wrote. But in 2015 I started exploring places I'd read about and always wanted to go see.

It is super cool to sleep on a houseboat in Amsterdam, take a train in Germany, climb inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, or visit Stonehenge. But the ugly truth is sometimes travel is boxed and shallow like a mega mall or amusement park. The same trinkets made in China are sold to tourists in many places. The same photos show up on Instagram—with fast food places, ugly buildings, and tons of tourists carefully cropped out of the shot. The same McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken are nearly everywhere. 

As Mr. Brady so profoundly put it, "Wherever you go there you are." It's not about the place. It's about you. From my point of view a great many tourists don't even care what they're looking at. I've found that if I wait patiently, like an entire ten minutes, that the latest ferry-load or bus-load or ship-load of tourists will clear out of a site, heading for snacks or the next big thing and I can take some epic photos without zillions of people milling about.

That's not always the case. Sometimes those ship-loads of tourists are timed exactly ten minutes apart.

The point is if you're not at a place in your life when you CAN travel, I'm going to go against the crowd here and tell you that you might not be missing as much as rumored. In this day and age you can research a place in-depth and learn about it. I did that old school for places like the Colosseum, The Forum, The Pyramids, and the Acropolis long before the opportunity to go there came along.

Wait for it. Make sure you want it. 

Sure June isn't summer without the Strawberry Moon and sitting beneath a starry sky writing on my balcony in Alonissos, but I think it's fifty years of longing that make Greece so magical for me. 

When I started writing with true intention to get my work published, I did it sitting on a bench with a pencil and paper in my bedroom with the door shut. When I want absolute quiet I like to find a spot on the rim of the Grand Canyon and sit there, somewhere away from the crowds. Sometimes I find that quiet walking in the woods at night. Often it's simply when I'm writing in my messy office.

On busy days before I wrote full-time, my breaks came about when I slid to the floor of my closet. I'd hide there and listen to my own breath as long as I could get away from it.

For me, a person who is interested in most everything, it's the quiet that I cherish.

Many times people in Greece have asked me what the heck I do on the quiet island of Alonissos for a month. I could see Santorini, Crete, or Mykonos! they say.

They don't get it. I know what I long for and I wonder, do they? Do you? Therein lies your magic. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Glimpses of Athens

People crowd the edges of the Acropolis

sentinel tourists of the Parthenon.

I sip iced mountain tea on a rooftop cafe 

debating climbing up the marble outcropping

in slippy sandals again this year. 

The Museumo d' Acropoli

is air-conditioned and

the reading room asks nothing of me.

Where's your ticket? asks a docent.

Um, I had one I swear, checking pockets.

I lose it every year.

Outside I watch a dig through the glass floor 

and inexplicably

buy a crown of golden laurel leaves for €4,

passing on sweetened dried banana chips at €1.50

no, thank you. Ohee, efharisto, in Greek

with an awful American accent.

So much stuff

so many people

uncomfortable taxi rides

"I show you Olympic stadium," again this year,

the coast, Syntagma Square, 

my Ohee NO doesn't always work here.

Nor my persistent STOCK-SEN-A-THO-HEE-O

HOTEL, or at-the-hotel. Please.

Please. Para-ka-lo.

That doesn't work either.
Me and Lawrence at the Acropolis Museum in Athens

The peace of Alonissos vanishes 

into mist in Athens.

Uber back to the hotel

away from Lawrence,

he's why I come here.

Now I have to catch a

flight in the morning.

I'm ready to go.

Until next year, Lawrence.