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December 4, 2018

One year ago, my mother’s caretaker Jennifer started her shift by saying “There were sure a lot of sirens I heard on my way here.”

I remember sitting with my mom, talking, not realizing that in a few hours I would be back there, loading her in her van as Jennifer stood by, holding mom’s medications in a bag and the flames raged in the hills just a mile or two away.

That night the biggest and most destructive fire in California started, just two months after the previously most destructive fire in Santa Rosa. Since then, we have had two massive fires that have destroyed thousands of homes and a debris flow that killed dozens.

That night changed everyone who was here. We’re wiser and sadder and, I think, kinder to one another.

It should be obvious, but we pretend so we can get through each day without feeling paranoid and afraid: everything can change in a moment.

That knowledge is also a font of strength and mindfulness.

One of my great spiritual teachers, Richard Levy, said that all of his lessons could be summed up as “Show up. Pay attention.”

The zen saying is “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

Before the fire, show up and pay attention. After the fire, show up and pay attention.

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What remains. #thomasfire #venturastrong #ventura

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Love at the DMV

December 2, 2018

I lost my driver’s license. I don’t mean it got taken away (though that lady who almost hit me in the parking lot today probably thinks it should be); I physically lost it, most likely somewhere between San Jose and Ventura. Lost for the first time in my life. Gah. I think I had it wedged between my room key cards at the Hampton and left the cards there, of course.

I went on the Department of Motor Vehicles website to order a replacement. Easy right? HA, no, this is the DMV, have you ever met us? You have to go to the DMV to get a replacement. Visiting the DMV, in California, is a task most people enjoy about as much as a colonoscopy (but at least with a colonoscopy, you get to be asleep).

I saw the first available appointment: December 26, also noting the large warning on the website: You MUST not drive without a license. Crap. I was going to have to go stand in line with no appointment.

People advised me when to go. Get there 90 minutes before they open. No, an hour is ok. You should be ok with 45 minutes, but you’ll probably have to wait an hour and a half once you get inside.

I decided I would arrive at 7 a.m., an hour before opening, and take my chances. ¡Bueno! I was first. It was a cool, drizzly morning and I was so happy to wait in my car as long as no one else was there. Another guy showed up and waited in his car. Yay. We were on the same wavelength.

Then about 7:15, a lady showed up and sat on the bench near the door. I was going to have to exit my warm car and sit outside. I walked over to the bench, clutching my fuzzy blanket, grumpy at this woman.

“Oh, you can go first!” she said. “I saw you were already here.”

Hmph. Ok, BE nice, then.

“Do you want to sit on part of my blanket?” I asked, pointing to the concrete bench.

“No,” she said. “I’m not really in line anyway. I’m waiting so my dad doesn’t have to.”

We got in a long conversation because her dad is 86 and needed an ID and she helped care for him. We talked, as dutiful middle-aged daughters tend to do, about the elderly and driving and caretaking and worrying and feeling like nothing you ever do is enough.. After a few minutes, I offered her part of the blanket again and this time, she accepted.

“Oh, my gosh, this is so much better,” she said, insulated from the bone-chilling concrete hardness.

Right before the DMV opened (when there were about 45 people in line), her sister drove up with her father. As the doors opened, dad and daughter changed places.

This is love. Getting up to be at the DMV on a rainy day so an 86-year-old man doesn’t have to stand in line. Coordinating with your sister so you can come early and then she can drive dad.

May we all have people who love us so much. May we all love each other this much.

Guess What I Found Today?

November 30, 2018

The cherry tomatoes live on.

Happy Birthday, Laura

November 26, 2018

My sis would have been 67 today. I wish she were here, happily enjoying Social Security and pottering around in the garden. It always seems unfair that we have to live in a world without her in it.

Laura and Me

Feeding seagulls, Silver Strand Beach, November 1983.

The Real Journey

November 22, 2018

20181117_085525_resizedMy journey with Gladis has only covered about 2,000 miles so far and is easily traced on a map.

The first loop was from home up through Buellton to King City to the Pinnacles to San Juan Bautista, Monterey and home over 4 days.

The second was to Buellton, Paso Robles (sense a theme?), Sacramento, Ashland, Brookings, Eureka, San Jose and home over 20 days.

The next? I’m thinking of heading to the southwest.

But today, on Thanksgiving, I’m sitting on a friend’s couch and thinking about the real journey, which is to gratitude.

The past few years have been kind of a mess, sponsored by menopause. For much of it, I didn’t feel like doing anything beyond just getting through each day.

“I don’t feel like myself,” I told my doctor, and she said “I hear that from women in menopause ALL THE TIME.”

So after my mom died in August and my landlady decided to “go another direction” with my apartment (I’ll tell you the story in private but not here. Give me a call) and I had to give up my dog and I lost my mind, things were not looking good. I felt like my head was a mass of whirling bees. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t work.

Six weeks off work did me a world of good and the love of my friends and my church/spiritual center got me through. But the real breakthrough came as soon as I hit the road.

Everything became so sacred and beautiful when I saw it through Gladis’s windshield. The gold hills of Paso Robles at daybreak, scattered with ancient oaks took my breath.

Thousands of acres of wine grapes, their leaves turning autumn colors made me laugh at the idea of so much wine on so many tables. And then all the fruit and nut tree orchards along Highway Five. It seemed like hundreds of miles, and it made me so grateful. “This is our food,” I thought, my heart aching with thanks.

And then the ribbon of water, the aqueduct bringing northern California water to the south. Beautiful water. Life.

I was grateful for the sunrises, the sunsets, the nubbly fall plains, the hills, the mountains, the redwoods, oh, my God the redwoods. And then the coast with peaceful wide beaches and severe black crags jutting into the water.

I was thankful for the truck stops with their peculiar hot dog-coffee-air conditioning smell and their friendly cashiers in garish polyester smocks.

For having friends and family to visit along the way, making my journey so much richer.

I was grateful for fellow travelers who chatted me up, cozy Elks lodges, rest stops, people curious about my journey with Gladis.

For dogs in cars regarding me curiously. For traffic laws and well-built bridges.

I am profoundly grateful I have been given this opportunity to see beyond my own walls and fears. This journey is not outward, but inward AND outward to a place where I see that the world is indeed made of thoughts, and that thoughts can change and that possibilities are there for the discovery, if only we are willing to move.


I love comments! Please leave one and make me even MORE grateful.


Know When to Fold Em

November 19, 2018

After a relaxing evening at the Hampton in San Jose and their free! breakfast! (yes, I love me some free food), Gladis and I got on the road about 7 a.m., hoping to avoid more San Jose OMG DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE LANES LIKE THAT ANTHONY? traffic.

I would be home by three, I thought, including a carefully timed stop at Vic’s Cafe in Paso Robles for pie. I don’t even LIKE pie that much – I’m a cake girl through and through – but Vic’s pie is to normal pie as the International Space Station is to a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s good enough to convert pie agnostics like me.

Then I hit the fog. It was bad, a wall of white that made me squint and lean over the steering wheel. I couldn’t see more than a few car lengths ahead of me. I tried driving slowly, then realized I just couldn’t do it safely. I exited the freeway in Morgan Hill – about 10 miles south of San Jose – and crept along the country roads until I could find a safe parking place, which was hard because I could barely see the sides of the road around me.


One of the best things about having an RV? If you’re stuck somewhere in the fog, you have a comfy seat, a blankie, and a bathroom. I wrote a blog post and talked on the phone and drank my coffee. I waited about 2 hours for the fog to lift until it was safe to get back on the road.

Just after 11, I stopped in Soledad (city motto, no joke: “It’s Happening in Soledad!” City industry: a prison).

I had once stopped there about 10 years ago and had gotten a bean burrito that had the best beans I had ever tasted. They were a miraculously soft but somehow still firm silky perfection that made me think about them every time I drove by Soledad…but I was never hungry until this trip. I figured an early lunch would give me room for pie in about 2 hours…so I went searching for the same place I had eaten so memorably a decade before.

I found it on a side street – Acamparo Panaderia. And guess what? The beans were as I remembered them. Perfection! Just like mom used to make (my mom wasn’t Mexican, but she grew up during the Great Depression and could make a mean pot of beans).


I got to Vic’s Cafe at 1 pm. Vic’s seats maybe 65 people if you pack them in, and they had 4 servers and 4 cooks on. It had been a busy morning. I gasped as I saw this.


Because of the fog and because it was Sunday and because people in Paso Robles are too damned selfish to leave a single slice of pie in the event that a weary traveler stops by, THERE WAS NO PIE.

I sadly drank coffee and ate a consolation cookie at the counter, glancing over and over at the empty pie board. No pie. Sniff.

(Gladis, however, got a little snack of $100 worth of gas).

On I drove through the gold California landscape of fall, the beautiful flickering yellow cottonwoods and the apple stands giving way to the coast once again.

A few hours later Gladis and I were home. Nancy’s dogs were overwhelmed with OMG SHE’S HOME! I fell asleep at 8 pm, exhausted and happy to have had such a great 20 days on the road, and joyful  to have people and dogs glad to see me.



November 18, 2018

When I started my travels south yesterday, I had two conflicting priorities (because of course I did): I wanted to see the North Coast of California, and I also wanted to avoid staying in the worst air quality areas for the night.

Much of the state is blanketed in heavy smoke from the Camp fire in Paradise and the Woolsey fire near Malibu. The worse air quality was in the center of the state, around the Bay Area. I would have to run long and hard to make it from faaaar north through the gigantic bad air zone.

Gladis and I started the day in Eureka after a very pleasant Elks Lodge stay:

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

The understated NY Times Map with its pale buff colors doesn’t do the air quality justice, so I will include a more urgent-looking map:

Air quality map of California showing smoke from fires

So I was way the heck up north, wanted to be south of the scary red and purple dots, and wanted to still see the coastline. No problem. I am woman! I am Towanda! I can do it all!

I left by 7 a.m. and hummed down the road, taking a side trip down the Avenue of the Giants, a redwood grove stretching 22 miles parallel to the main highway.

If you have a reverent bone in your body, this place will make you want to fall to your knees and give thanks to God for letting you witness this at least once in your life. If you don’t have that inclination, well, it’s still dang pretty. And quiet. I was the only car on the road due to it being winter and early in the day. The redwoods have a deep and lovely hush.


I reluctantly drove on (after trying to figure out if I could stay there forever) and turned westward to make the connection to California 1 South, which would take me to the ocean.

The first sign said “No RVs over 40 feet” and the second said “Winding Road Next 22 miles.” I actually pulled over and thought for a minute about whether I wanted to continue down this road. I knew the RV sign meant this road was really, truly curvy. Over 40 feet was banned, but I knew even 23 feet would be no picnic. I took a deep breath and put Gladis into drive. Onward. Towanda!

They weren’t kidding. It was hairpins and climbs on top of hairpin descents. I learned a lot about using a lower gear and using the whole road when I could safely do so, flattening out some of the curves by crossing the center line. It was so beautiful, though, redwoods crowding both sides of the road, little creeks, hawks zooming in front of me, tiny towns of 50 to 100 people suddenly appearing out in the middle of it all.

I popped out onto the coast here. I know, right? Worth it!


As I pulled over to take the photos, my brother-in-law called and I told him “I survived.”

Then I got back on the road and about 1 mile later, the sign said “Winding Road Next 16 miles.”

Then 8 miles. Then 11 miles. All the way between arriving on the coast and Mendocino, it was like this. It was a test of my nerves and my driving, and I did it. It was so beautiful that when I could remind myself to breathe and relax and be in the moment, I was brought to tears with gratitude for the journey. Redwoods. Cypresses. Crashing waves. Rocky shores. TWISTY WINDY ROADS.

I eventually got back to the 101 south (after 22 miles on guess what – the twisty windy and narrow CA-128), relieve to be on a real freeway  immediately and encountered a traffic delay. Of course. Sitting stopped in traffic, I flipped on Waze to find “Fire. Four Miles Ahead.” I had tried to escape smoke, and somehow found fire. I bark-laughed. A few minutes later one of the commenters, thankfully, added that the fire was out. Breathe. Drive.

I wanted to make it through the Bay Area, where the traffic is bad and the air was worse, to at least San Jose, where the air was in the red but not purple zone. This meant driving in the dark, something I hadn’t done before. In the shitshow of Silicon Valley, it was as crazy as might be expected.

Do you really NEED to do a sudden four-lane change at 65 mph, ANTHONY? But despite all the people cutting in three inches from my front bumper, I survived! And so did they, somewhat surprisingly! (I only had to brake hard and hear all of the contents of Gladis slide sickeningly forward one time). Towanda!

The San Jose Bass Pro didn’t have RV parking that I could find and the San Jose Elks lodge RV park was dark and creepy, so I gave up and went to the Hampton Inn. You KNOW I love me some Hampton. Ironic considering how in my last post I was trash-talking motels, but that’s God’s sense of humor, isn’t it?

After 12 hours on the road, I ate some leftovers, drank a bottle of water, took an hour-long shower and turned on the sleep meditation app. It was the most gorgeous, tiring, scary, damnable, wonderful day on the road. Smooches to Gladis, who performed like a champ. Towanda! We can do this thing!




My BFF Gladis

November 17, 2018

Gladis and I spent 12 hours on the road today, which is entirely too long. I’ll tell the story some day when I haven’t driven for 12 hours. We went some cool places, though.


Creature Comforts

November 16, 2018

Being on the road in an RV like Gladis is pretty comfy. It’s far more comfortable than sleeping in a tent or van, and it even has advantages over motels (I KNOW when the blankets were last laundered, thank you very much). But it’s not quite as nice as home.

The mattress is ok, but not like home. The couch (the folded-down dinette) will do, but it’s 3 inches of foam rubber on top of boards, not a foam blob engineered to perfectly fit your body like real sofas are. And the shower….well, it’s ok to get pretty kinda somewhat clean, but that’s about it. And then there’s the “everything here is new to me” aspect of moving around and doing everything at different grocery stores, gas stations, etc., than I’m used to.

I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that’s how it is. But the effect of these little slightly-less-than-comfortable aspects builds and makes it necessary to ensure I do have creature comforts on hand to soothe my mildly jangled soul.

One is NPR from home. I got the local station app and play it over my bluetooth whenever I want to know what’s going on down there.

Another is bikkies. Biscuits. Sorry, I’ve been obsessively watching The Great British Baking Show again. Cookies. A girl needs a cookie or two at the end of a long day of driving and trying to figure out where the heck I am going. Preferably a nice gingery Biscoff biscuit.

Some creature comforts require a little ingenuity. Dennis, Gladis’s previous owner, God bless him, installed a lot of lights in the unit. Twelve to be exact. In a 23-footer. And he made the rookie mistake of putting in “true daylight” LEDs, which have a razor-sharp glare that makes any space feel harsh and uninviting. And I do want my space to feel inviting.

So please forgive me, if on the road I improvised until I can figure out something better  (something that doesn’t involve buying 24 new LED bulbs). Observe: I am master of my domain. The new, the beautiful, the coffee filter lampshade. If something happens to me, please explain this to whoever finds Gladis. I’m not insane. My eyes just hurt.


Two Roads Diverged

November 15, 2018

After watching some YouTube videos, I diagnosed myself as having anxiety. Some of the symptoms matched up perfectly. Mostly the fact that I’m usually convinced everything will turn out for the worst.

“What if the worst thing DIDN’T happen?” a friend asked. That has become my new mantra.

When I was talking about this trip to my therapist, she asked where I was going.

“I don’t really know,” I said. “I’ll decide when I come to the forks in the road.”

She started laughing. “You’re not a terribly anxious person, you know,” she said. “A truly anxious person would never have said what you just said.”

This freedom is odd to experience. I literally don’t know where I will be from one week to the next.

I ended up where I am completely by chance. A bartender mentioned the place. Then I told my host in Ashland, Ross, about what the bartender said, and he agreed. Driving Gladis this direction, I still wasn’t sure I would come here. But the right fork looked nicer than the left fork, and I thought it would certainly be cheaper to buy gas in Oregon than California, so I decided to come here for at least an hour.

Seven days later, I’m having a hard time figuring out why I should leave Brookings, Oregon.

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