Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anatomy of dysfunction and divorce

I had a conversation with the ex-husband the other day about his grievances versus mine.Technically, he's not ex yet, but I'm trying to get used to saying and thinking it. It's getting surprisingly easy for a number of reasons. If you've been in any kind of long-term relationship, there will be grievances but ours had attained mythic proportions because they festered for years. He'd sent me a lengthy email citing chapter and verse and I wanted to give him my take on his complaints. It could also be called the last word if you wanted to argue about it. The conversation was an amazing revelation. We have memories 180 degrees apart. How do things like that happen? In our case, it was because we never talked about anything of substance. Ever.

It started with his Vietnam experiences. Off limits from Day 1. I met him a few years after he returned to the States but even in the early days of being together, when it seems people share every memory and experience they've ever had, it was obvious this topic was off the table for discussion. That should have been the canary in the coal mine but I was starry-eyed and only saw this wounded man that I thought I could make better if I loved him enough. When you start to tread lightly on shaky ground with one topic, it becomes easier and easier to avoid all other shaky ground when it appears beneath you. It was especially true for me because he turned cold and distant when asked about anything he didn't want to discuss, and the last thing I wanted was to be banished from his orbit. What a silly, naive, trusting, needy girl I was because nothing ever got better or resolved and I came to accept this as normal. Not good, of course, but normal. Our story is textbook dysfunction. It's a wonder we lasted as long as we did. I used to joke it was because of inertia but that pretty much sums it up.

I read not long ago that some marriage therapist could predict which marriages would succeed and which would fail just by observing how couples relate to each other during a disagreement or argument. The primary predictor for failure was what the therapist called Stonewalling. Well, shut the door. That is exactly the problem we had. If he didn't want to discuss it, it didn't get discussed. When another problem arose I thought I'd get even by refusing to talk about it, and around and around we went. Whatever issue we had became the elephant in the room, until one day one of us would say something innocuous like needing to get cereal for the kids, and then we'd talk to each other again. So not only were we not talking about the problem, we got to where we would not say a word to each other for days at a time. Yeah, we were a mess.

Here's the point of this confessional. If you think you want a lifetime with that great guy who's charming, charismatic, and attentive, take notice of his behavior when conflict arises. Give the courtship enough time to let conflict arise. Then run like hell if he shuts down on you, if he withholds attention. It will not get better. Trust me on this. I kept hoping we would get back to the magic of the early days, when I was silly, naive, trusting, and needy, when I thought his brooding was sexy and attractive, and didn't know it takes more than just having my skirts blown up, to quote a friend, to make something of meaning last. His memories of my wrongdoings against him stopped at the point his feelings were hurt and he shut down rather than be subjected to more of the same, but he also missed out on remembering any attempts at all to make things right. I truly believe my memory of the same events is the correct one, if only because I can still hear the words in my head and picture where we were and what we were doing. I could be wrong. As has been pointed out to me, that was often the  case, but if we could have shown each other our vulnerabilities with the trust that we wouldn't be betrayed by them down the road, would things have turned out differently?

Thursday, March 28, 2013


In addition to cruisingat60 I keep a journal, where the raw, bloody pain goes, the wounds that are so soul-scarring I can hardly stand it. Sometimes I write just a few lines if the day hasn't been bad but I once wrote two full pages when I had a day from the ninth circle of hell. Go look it up. Regardless of how much pain I'm in, though, to try to maintain some level of perspective, I make a point of also writing down five things I'm grateful for that day. On the day I wrote two pages I could come up with only three but thought later I could have at least listed each cat separately to get to five, although it's often stretching it to say I'm grateful for Hyacinth, the High-Strung Cat. Just one day out and she's already a trial. She dislikes change, very much like one of my sons who will remain unsingled-out, so I guess that's proof right there of genetic similarity or whatever it's called.

Yesterday was easier, though. As hard as it was to leave my old home for my new one, as surreal as it was to say goodbye-goodbye and not see-you-later-goodbye to the man I was married to and thought I knew for 34 years, as torturous as it was to realize yet again that my life as I've known it for more than half of it would never be the same, and that every expectation I've had for the rest of it is now like smoke in the wind, there were still gifts all day. These are the things I was grateful for last night:

~ A purple Karmann Ghia I saw on on 6th Street in Bremerton, with a red and yellow interior and wooden roof and trunk racks. Far out.
~ Trees in pink and white bloom everywhere or with that ephemeral green haze that I wasn't sure was spring growth or my imagination and for once I hoped my imagination was failing me.
~ 65! degrees! this afternoon. It didn't last long but I read the number with my own eyes.
~ $3.55 gas at Costco. I don't know about the rest of the country but this is a miraculous price risen from the dead.
~ And finally, Michael, my therapist and friend. He should be first on this list but everything else would have been disappointingly anticlimactic if they were listed after. It was my lucky day, when due to divine intervention or the roll of the dice, I was assigned to him. Thank you, Michael. You did good work. I will miss you.

It's all about perspective. I need to grieve. I have reason to grieve. To keep one foot in the world of the sane, though, I have to look for balance. The journal not only chronicles the grimmest parts of my life, it also prompts me to look for the joyful ones. They're there, no matter how hard I have to look or how far I have to stretch the definition of joyful.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A path with heart

I leave today. I waited this long to go because I had one last appointment with my therapist, the best therapist I've ever had, and I didn't want to miss it. The cats are in the van, I'm as stocked and ready as I'm going to be, and I'll be on the road by noon.

It's frightening. The closer this day came, the more fragile I felt. I worry about everything, even being so ridiculous about where I'm going to be next winter. How crazy is that? I worry about failing at this, at finding myself six or eight months on the road, wondering what I got myself into. I worry about some catastrophic repair that's going to wipe me out. I worry about finding a place for the night because I haven't planned ahead and now it's dark and there's nowhere to go. I worry about being so lonely it will immobilize me. I worry about getting sick with no one to care for me. I worry about my new health insurance and finding a provider when I need one. More on that train wreck another time. And I worry about money. It's the mother of all worries. It's the one that's taken up permanent residence in the pit of my stomach. Not having actually gone on the road full time before, I don't know what the cost will be. I can guess but I don't know. Gas is going to eat me alive, I'm sure of that. I won't be able to see this museum I want to see, hop back in Grace and drive 400 miles for the next thing, because at today's prices, it costs me $100 to fill the tank that takes me 400 miles.

So traveling will necessarily be a slow process. I follow people online who've fulltimed it for years and they take it slow. They plunk down into a spot and stay for a week or two, then drive 100 or 200 miles and stop for another couple of weeks. I think I can live with that pace. I'm going to have to live with that pace.

The cost of camping is another worry. It's not unusual to pay  $35-$40 a night at commercial campgrounds. Weekly rates are a little less, monthly even more of a break but not necessarily a bargain, and many campgrounds cost much more. We stayed in one about a year ago that was $70!!! a night and the pool wasn't even open. Federal and state campgrounds are fairly inexpensive but may not offer any or all hookups, so then there are the worries of finding fresh water to fill the tanks and dump stations to empty the waste tanks. The same goes for camping on free federal land: no hookups because it's undeveloped land, and there may not even be potable water available, but if I can dry camp half of each month it will alleviate a lot of the financial worry. Everything is a trade off.

It's crazy to worry like this. Buddhism teaches that the present moment is the only one that's real. Already that sentence is in the past and the one you are about to read is in the future. The only moment that matters is this present moment. And now this moment. And this one. Worrying about the future does not affect what will happen; it will only take away from what is real in this moment right now, just as being mired in the past with regret doesn't change what's back there. It's gone. Living in the moment is a difficult concept to understand and adopt. I like to know outcomes, good or bad: if I know I can prepare myself. But how can we know the future? If I could do that I would be rich on Apple stock and would probably be trading money worries for something else.

Finding meaning in this life at the moment I live it is traveling a path with heart. If I can get a good grip on it, living in the moment will change the way I live and appreciate my life. I'm workin' on it.

Thought for today:
We're so busy watching out for what's ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are. (Bill Watterson. (You know, of Calvin and Hobbes fame))

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Time is drawing short. There are only a couple of days left before I leave this house, with no reason ever to come back. I would rather not do it. No, that's not right; I would rather do it under different circumstances, but it's not a choice I get to make.

I loved this house when we bought it less than three years ago. We saw it in August when the sun was high and warm, when raspberries were weighing down the canes in the garden, and the apple trees were promising a bounty. The mountains were out, the water was sparkling, and it seemed like just the place we'd hoped to find. Real estate prices were down and suddenly we could afford waterfront. How could it be any better than this, a dream we never thought we'd see realized.

Then, not long ago, I remembered times when I was out in someone's boat, looking with envy and longing at the beautiful houses at the water's edge, thinking how lucky the people were who lived in them. What great lives they had, how happy they must be, living in places like these. But of course, you never, ever know. You honest to God don't know what goes on behind closed doors. There are no guarantees that come with any possession that your life will be bliss or even averagely happy.

But there's no amount of money that can buy this bliss: An eagle gliding by, right at the edge of the bank that drops off to the canal. The sound of coyotes outside the bedroom window at night. A full moon shining in the skylight or gleaming over the water. Chickadees, nuthatches, brilliantly blue steller's jays, and goldfinches swarming the feeders. Sun slanting low and golden across the yard. Hummingbirds fighting with aerobatics. Bushels of apples and buckets of raspberries, warm from the sun and fragrant with summer. Clouds creating an ever-changing peep show over the Olympics. A doe picking her delicate way through the apple trees. A deep inhale of the fragrance of newly-cut grass, made sweeter because I didn't have to do the cutting. Fishing boats crowding the water during salmon runs. Submarines heading out to sea and returning home.

And then there's the canal. I don't have words to describe how much I love the water that constantly, constantly changes, with warring currents, patches inexplicably smooth as glass, the ebb and flow of the tides. Choppy waves capped with white when the wind kicks up. The sparkle, the shimmer, the blue and the gray and the silver that grace its every surface every second of every day, ever changing yet ever constant.

I'm not even gone yet and I'm missing it, every bit of it, already.


Thought for the day:
She felt like parts of her soul were missing, had left her body long ago...[She] realized those parts had left her and were never coming back. (Ann Brashares (Sisterhood Everlasting))

Friday, March 22, 2013

The pros and cons of a toad

The last motor home I had was a 31' Winnebago, which is considered weensy by motor home standards. (Weensy: "It's an industry term" and points to you if you get the joke.) It had two nice slide outs to give some breathing room inside which made it good for several weeks on the road for two people. The insomniac could go to the "living room" and let the other one sleep. The TV watcher was separate from the reader. The shower was big enough, if a little cramped, it was separate from the room with the toilet and sink, and didn't require a $200 shower curtain. It had a decent-sized fridge and a freezer big enough for ice cream, most important. The table didn't need assembly when a meal rolled around. The space was nice but it was too big to take just anywhere. Parking garages were off limits and we needed to go to the back forty in parking lots because it took up two spaces. Driving on city streets was a nightmare and it had a quarter-mile turning radius. Because of this, we had a toad.

A toad is a towed vehicle. I just love a play on words. We towed a Honda Civic hybrid (what a good little car that was) on a dolly so the front wheels were up and the back wheels were on the ground. It worked great for mobility but what an exquisite pain it was. The car had to be lined up with surgical precision to make the front tires nestle in the tire wells exactly right. Then the tires were strapped into place with ladder-like webbed straps and cinched down tighter than a drum. Another strap went over and around the car axle and frame of the dolly as a fail-safe. All of it had to be tightened again a mile or so down the road. This was the easy part.

It was impossible for me to take the car off the dolly by myself. The straps that continued to tighten as we went down the road needed to be removed from the ratchet buckles. The manufacturer says it's simple: just lift up the buckle to loosen the ratchet! So easy! Liars!! It involved grubbing around on the ground, jamming a monster screwdriver under the buckle to lift it, and another person to worm the strap out little by little. The good part was once the car was off the dolly we were as mobile as we wanted to be.

The other option was a flat-bed trailer, which we used for a Mustang (red, GT, convertible, gorgeous. Oh, baby, I miss that car.). The Mustang was rear-wheel-drive so it couldn't be towed back wheels down. I wasn't going to risk putting the back wheels up and the front down where a good bump would take off the nose of the car. Also, the trailer itself is a million pounds and you can imagine what that does to mileage. And the car still had to be strapped down.

So everything is a trade off. The bigger motor home gave space but took away mileage and maneuverability and strengthened the need for a toad. There were also some trips where it was too much work to unload the car for a couple of things we wanted to see so they went unseen. What's the point, then, of having it in the first place?

I elected, as you know, to go with a camper van. I can drive it nearly anywhere I can take a car. It gets somewhat better mileage than the Winnie with or without a toad. The trade off here is the inconvenience of having to put everything away before driving off to see the sights:  disconnecting and stowing water, sewer, and electric umbilicals and anything loose inside that will go flying once I'm on the road. This hasn't been put into play yet so I don't know how exasperating it's going to be but it can't be worse than loading and unloading a toad.


Here's the joke: In My Cousin Vinny, my all-time favorite movie EV-er, Marisa Tomei is arguing about a dripping bathroom faucet with her fiance, Joe Pesci. She says she knows she turned it off just the right amount to keep it from dripping because she used "a Craftsman model 1019 laboratory edition signature series torque wrench. The same kind used by CalTech high energy physicists and NASA engineers." Questioned about its accuracy, she said it had just been calibrated by the state's department of weights and measures "to be dead-on balls accurate." Joe Peschi asks her, with eyebrows raised, "Dead-on balls accurate?" She gives a sweet little smile and answers, "It's an industry term."


Thought for the day: For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A beginner's guide to weight loss

I've been a collector of stuff, things that were so important to me that they've been hauled across the country and back again, but not so important that I used or looked at them even occasionally. Why did I have to have this baggage, where did this need to accumulate come from? When did the I Want become the I Need? Who knows? Not me, that's for sure, but I had to have this stuff.

I had a huge collection of children's books. I'm talking into four digits, I'm sure, but I never counted. I do know I had an entire wall of IKEA shelves six feet high that was nearly full. It all began with one book, The Boy with a Drum, a Little Golden Book that was so loved by my older son we wore it out and had to buy a second copy.  "There once was a boy with a little toy drum. Rat-a-tat-tat and a rum-a-tum-tum."

We loved that book. It never got old. It has a rhythm to it that's mesmerizing. (Go ahead, read those sentences out loud and tap it out on the table. See?) The replacement copy was purged along with other childhood things as my sons grew up, but somewhere I got the idea that I'd like to have that book again. Listen to me, children, and do as I say, not as I did: don't buy that first book! There was exactly one copy on Amazon when I went looking and I paid $20 for that sucker, I had to have it so bad. Thus I began my descent into madness.

The collection spread like a virus. Later, I wondered why in the heck I'd ever bought some of these books. I know now, just as any recovering addict knows to avoid dangerous places and situations, that it's not safe for me to go to used bookstores or sales at the library or even, God help me, to look in a bookstore window.

At some point I decided to lighten the load. I sold many, many books on Amazon. I took another big chunk to my grandsons because kids, unlike their grandmothers, can never have too many books, and I've kept some. OK, many, but a small fraction of what I started with, including The Boy with a Drum.

When I decided to cruise at 60 I had to decide what to do with all of my stuff, not just the books. There's another pile of boxes to go to the grands. More books went on Amazon, including craft books that were a good idea when I bought them. I weeded out a lot of craft things, but interestingly, this has been the hardest category to purge, I think because I sunk a lot of money into it. Still, a lot is gone. The little girl next door who I taught to knit is the beneficiary of a good amount of yarn. All the furniture and almost all belongings that are not being claimed by my ex-husband are being split up between my sons. What a bonanza for them! We have some nice antiques that came down through the family. Art we collected is going the same way. Christmas ornaments. Pottery. Lamps. Canning equipment. Paint, electrical, and plumbing supplies. A tile saw. Garden tools. Shop tools. Generators. Folding tables. Patio furniture. Clothing.  Jeez, we have a lot of crap. I had a choice to pay to store it somewhere for however long I'm on the road, or to let them have it and enjoy it now. It seemed like a pretty easy choice. The more I parceled out the better it felt. I would never have thought it possible to let go, but these things had turned into an anchor and now they've been cut free.

The fraction of the things I'm holding on to is being foisted on one son who has storage space. I think it's only fair that he stores it all for me because I've ferried his belongings around the country for a long time. In a year I'll look through the boxes again and see what else I can live without. I'm sure I will distribute more and it will feel good all over again to unburden myself. I want to see how simply I can live. It's taken me a long time to realize that it's not the things you own that make you happy. We all need to find our peace and contentment inside ourselves. I'm workin' on it.

Thought for the day: Even Socrates, who lived a very frugal and simple life, loved to go to the market. When his students asked about this, he replied, "I love to go and see all the things I can live without." Jack Kornfield (After the Ecstasy, the Laundry)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Meet Grace

She needs a bath. You can see past the dirt, right?

First, obviously, the outside. She's 20 feet long and about 8'9" high, which I need to remember for parking garages. I like the extra windows up top. They can close off with a curtain but I like the light.


The "kitchen." I'm bummed because there isn't an oven, but I don't use the fancy convection oven at the house, so I wonder who I'm trying to kid. I'll wait a year and if I think I have to have one, I'll take her somewhere to have a convection microwave installed. There's a small microwave to the upper left here already. So there's the two-burner stove with a solid cover to close it off when it's not being used, which gives a flat surface. A tiny sink to its left with the cover in place, and under the sink is a fridge the size of a shoebox. The freezer is the size of a matchbox. I won't be using ice cubes.


At the back of the van is the bed. Grace isn't really listing like this. I swear every picture looks straight when I take it. I put beach towels over the benches to help save them from cat hair. There are panels under the cushions to put in the space between the benches, then the cushions fold origami-like over the panels to make the bed. I haven't done that yet; I've been trying to get used to sleeping on one of the benches. Not working yet.

The hole in the floor is where a pole goes to hold a table top. Haven't done that yet either.

The purple string is the end of a yarn ball. All the money I've spent on toys for the felines and they go for a ball of yarn and an empty box.

To the left in the foreground is the end of the bench that I'm forced to use for storage. The black bag is most of my camera gear and the white bag behind it is my library. I'm restricting myself to that many books or I'll end up like Lucy in The Long, Long Trailer. Thank heaven for e-books.

Since this was taken I've added a small folding table under those two bags, to be used when I'm dry camping and there's no picnic table available. And a folding beach-type umbrella in its carry case. I swear, that's all that's going back there.


The TV, a little thing but I guess a bigger one would make me blind at the distance I'll be from it. There's a DVD player in the cabinet behind the TV. The TV pivots out to face forward so it can be seen from the captains' chairs up front. Speaking of DVDs, I just bought Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo in the 3-D version. I have simple viewing tastes.


Across the aisle from the sink and fridge is the bathroom, if bathroom can be defined as a toilet. That's the door. Yes, you sit or whatever you do with the door open. There are doors that swing out to the left and right to close the space off completely if you're of a delicate nature. The cats don't care and neither do I so we're good.


This is the ceiling in front of the bathroom door and that's the track for the shower curtain. You shower in the aisle and when you're done, the curtain goes back into the toilet space. There's a drain in the floor directly below, and everything is neat and tidy. A problem: Grace didn't come with a shower curtain. I went online to find a replacement and the only place to get one is from a Roadtrek dealer. The clips that hold the curtain to the track come in two pieces and are 45 cents each piece. OK, not too bad. The curtain, a shower curtain, plain, one purpose only, not even seen when not being used, is $205. I kid you not. I'm not stupid, there's no way I'm paying that! When I told the woman who took my order for the clips I would pass on the curtain and jury-rig something from Walmart, she warned me it might not work as well. It's a show-er-cur-tain! It does one thing! I think I can figure it out.


Looking forward. The cats' scratching post in the ridiculous hope they'll leave everything else alone, a couple of storage cupboards, and the part that gets me from here to there. Grace is just old enough that there's no MP3 jack and what a bummer that is. The seats pivot around to face the middle of the van and there's another small table that's on a post like the one in back that goes in front of them.


Last picture. This seat is wasted space for me so it hold my spin dryer, my yoga mat, and a yoga block. This dryer is described as "mini." Pfffttt. I think not. For as much space as it takes, it had better be worth it. And that's my brand-new Tilley hat hanging above it. I'm in love with my Tilley.

Grace is so small I had to get a little creative with placing things. In my last, bigger, motorhome, the litter box could go in the shower. My shower here is in the aisle and that's obviously not a solution. It sits in the foot-well of the front passenger seat, actually a good, out-of-the-way location, with the only drawback being anyone looking in can see I travel alone.

So that's Grace, named for my mom, a remarkable woman.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I know!

I know it's been forever. Hell broke out in my life, again related to being Suddenly Single at Sixty, and it's taken me a while to find my way out. Winston Churchill said, When you're going through hell, keep going. That's what I've been trying to do, keep going. The second hell took me back to the beginning of the pain and the fear, and let's mention anger and an overwhelming feeling of betrayal, and I've had to make up lost ground.

It's a little better. I have the best friends in the world, better than I could have ever hoped to have, and they have carried me through when I've been incapable of moving, let alone thought. So thank you, all of you, and you know who you are. I can't ever hope to repay you for your love and support.


A few weekends ago I took my van, who I'll introduce you to a while later, to the Oregon coast for a couple of nights. One of them was spent at Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria. While I was there I talked to a campground host about volunteering. Campground hosts greet visitors, get them signed in for camp sites, answer questions, do light maintenance, deliver firewood, light duty like that. In exchange, they receive a free site with full hookups for water, electric, and sewer. It can save the hosts a minimum of $20 a night at state parks. The more popular parks charge more. There may be a minimum length of duty, like a month, but in many cases the host can stay for the season. This is a good deal if you really like the area you're volunteering in, and you're not just assigned, you choose the campground you want. Some have more competition from volunteers than others, as you can imagine.

I'd known about this kind of volunteering for some time but it hadn't yet trickled back into my brain since I decided to cruise at 60, and talking to this volunteer got me thinking. One of these good friends I mentioned above told me she met volunteers doing work like this at Glacier National Park and thought I might be interested in one of these short-term jobs. When I got back to the house I started searching the website, just looking for what was available. It's late in the season for the hotspots like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Point Reyes, or Glacier, but there are still lots of slots for other places.

So here is what is amazing, and proof positive that God does shine his light down on me, or that a net will appear if you just take the leap. Petrified Forest National Park advertised for a librarian to organize and catalog their collection, minimum commitment of two months. I have a masters degree in library science and worked several years as an archivist, which turned out handy because they have work in that area too. And maybe in the museum, working with the collections manager. I am thrilled. So excited. Pleased as punch. I start at the beginning of May and am their woman until the end of September.

I admit to being nervous about heading out to parts unknown with no agenda, just following the lines on the map. I know it's the dream of a lot of people to be able to do exactly that, but I've never done it before on my own and I was scared. It was way more than being nervous. But here is a compromise, a transition that will give me a purpose to my days for several months. I couldn't be more pleased, plus I still get the free RV site with full hookups. What a deal.