Posted in writing

The 2020 Sailor’s “Gam”

As a kid I often imagined my bedroom into a boat. I planned to sail away in solitude and self-sufficiency…

I would stockpile “important” things in my room—often things I wasn’t allowed to have in my room (food!)—in preparation for my imaginary cast-off, and I would invest quite a lot of thought into (and derive quite a lot of pleasure from) this made-up scenario of having everything I wanted within reach at once. Before the word “Prepper” was even invented, I was practicing it with my play.

Fast-forward some decades, and I get to play “Boat” for real. Setting aside for a moment the horrifying reason why FOUR BILLION people are Playing Boat, I’m kind of acting out a kid-fantasy here. And—Bonus!—the invention of the Internet in the interim makes it even easier to “nest” contentedly in my home.

I feel that same sense of harbored hideaway–though the “important” items have shifted in form.

Forty years ago I was curating a different set of belongings, a different perspective of priorities–though with some definite overlaps. Back then I gathered up my teddy bear Toots, my blanket Pinky, my Nancy Drew collection, my diary, “Mr. Sketch” scented markers, flashlight and sleeping bag, Fisher-Price medical kit, a Triple-A “triptic” flip-book of maps, the contraband snacks… The Lutheran hymnal (filched from my parents’ shelf under the misapprehension that this was the “holy-and-important” church-book)…

My Kodak Instamatic camera and our Fisher Price tape-recorder (because even though I didn’t yet know the word “journalist,” I wanted to document my expedition)…

And stationery. I intended to write home.

Why am I reminiscing about this? Because suddenly we are living in the 2020 Pandemic, and we are SUPPOSED to Play Boat, all of us. Stock up with whatever you consider “essentials” and stay self-sufficient while hunkering down at home. We “go ashore” to provision (properly masked, gloved, wiped, and sanitized) and then we stay aboard our own boats. With only our own shipmates.

Toilet-paper jokes abound: this has been THE “panic purchase.” Inexplicably.

(By the way, that plaque was in my bathroom before the Great TP Privation of 2020. Just think: we can tell our awe-struck grandkids how toilet paper used to be so expendable we’d festoon teachers’ whole yards with it!)

Fortunately, I do have TP. And coffee. And laundry soap, eggs, deodorant, coffee creamer, kitty litter, prescription meds. Mini “Cutie” oranges. We haven’t been to the grocery store for more than two weeks, so the bananas are gone. And I’m out of Diet Dr. Pepper.

But we do have a new electric teapot, and we’re trying different teas. We have two-player games. I walk, in increments of time measured by “Outlander” episodes (I promised I’d ONLY watch when I’m on the treadmill!—Yes, I bribe myself). I have a “puzzle mat” to roll up an in-progress jigsaw and preserve its pieces from our cats. I’m working my way through archives of New York Times crosswords and a cache of logic puzzles on my iPad.

And hey, Toots is still aboard!–>

And LOTS of books.

No stationery, perhaps, but still an urge to write.

I’ve been posting blurbs on FaceBook every day, jokingly labeling them as entries in a “Captain’s Log”— carrying on my game of imagining my home into a boat. (An anchored boat, to be sure; my Google Maps cheerfully reported I traveled six miles in March.) It’s a string of the little goofy observations about Isolation Life (Day Twenty-Seven, by the way)….

Like trying to swipe open my grocery list at the store but my phone’s “facial recognition” doesn’t work with the mask. Or that our 2020 Home Projects list is unexpectedly done—so now what? Or how my mom & I exchanged pics of our propped-up feet and TV screens, watching the same Netflix show “together.” Or that my daily social life consists of greeting the mailman and UPS guy through my glass door. Or which is the more important protective gear when we took the motorcycle to the store: the helmet, or the mask? Or the difficulty of conveying an emotion with the “masked” emoticon. Or What the hell DAY is it? (With the follow-up: why would it matter?)

On the high seas of the nineteenth century, a cry of “Sail ho!” on a whaleship often augured a GAM–a social ritual of pulling alongside another ship to exchange news and mail.

But what is a gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster’s ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

These days, of course, you can find the word in twenty seconds on Dictionary.com or practically any glossary short of UrbanDictionary’s. And if you pause there with your hand on that mouse… You are, in fact, possessed of the mechanism of the modern gam. (Possessed by it, perhaps—but that’s a whole different conversation.) That’s right, let’s hear it for Zoom gams, because my boat-ride could feel a lot more isolated than it does.

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in Mental Health

Spooks & Sparklers

I’m still a little haunted. On my psychiatrist’s chart, that condition is spelled out “P-T-S-D,” but I think “haunted” is a better descriptor of the experience.

As much as I’ve tried to process it, my brain still doesn’t entirely know what to do with some of the sights, sounds, and experience my memory contains. I’m speaking specifically of the morning my second husband committed suicide, shooting himself in the head while I stood face to face with him. That stuff-in-my-head bubbles up uncomfortably with some triggers, and surfaces in nightmares. I don’t do well with seeing people shot on television; Jon has become expert at changing the channel with just a breath of notice. And he’s great at the gentle wake-up when I’m whimpering in my sleep.

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fireworks from our RV roof last night

Jon has his own PTSD trigger, thanks to his combat role in Desert Storm. Let’s just say he’s not a fan of fireworks—especially the whistling rockets that sound “just like incoming SCUD missiles.” Our RV Park is situated right next door to a semi-pro baseball stadium, where they set off fireworks regularly after games. We have notes on the calendar about fireworks-nights, just so they don’t catch Jon off guard. Four nights this week. I think he was only half joking when he asked Monday if he could return fire.

Fireworks don’t usually cause me trouble, so I was surprised Sunday night when they caught me off guard—I had already fallen asleep, and woke panicked to what I thought was gunfire.

The next morning I tried an exorcism-by-ink. Not tattoo-ink this time, but writing. I wrote out absolutely every detail I could remember from that Sunday morning, from when I woke up until when my mom arrived (having driven 300 miles in record time) a few hours later. I wrote about every sight, sound, even smell I could dredge out of my memory, and put it all on paper. I wrote out every piece of conversation with the 911 dispatcher, emergency responders, and detectives. I wrote about my living room, after it had been released from its “crime scene” status—the man removed by EMTs and the gun removed by police, but every other bit of “evidence” still remaining. I re-lived the whole thing on purpose and wrote thousands of words. It felt therapeutic. I guess time will tell whether it helped.

imageLast night I faced the fireworks in sort of the same way. The city’s holiday display is usually staged in a park upriver from us, but this year’s flooding rendered the usual spot too soggy, so the Fourth of July fireworks were moved to the fairgrounds right next to the ballpark and our RV park. I climbed up on our RV roof when I heard them start, and washed the whole show, rockets blooming beneath the nearly-full moon.

It was beautiful. And while I was looking at the whole picture, I wasn’t bothered by the resemblance to gunfire-noise. I’m hoping my therapy-writing will serve the same purpose. Big picture: I was face to face with Keoni when he fired that bullet, but I wasn’t hit. He broke my heart that morning—but hearts have amazing capacity for healing, and my life today is filled with love and joy. Today when one of his sayings flitted through my mind, I felt amused instead of uncomfortable or angry. Maybe that writing is doing its work.

Posted in Family, Home

A Visit (And a Visitation)

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my go-to resource when I’m in an orange apron!

One of the interesting things about working at Home Depot is that our customers have a definite expectation that anyone in an orange apron will be able to answer any of their questions. And the reason our customers have that expectation is because we are encouraged not to answer with “I don’t know.” When I don’t know (which is often) I’m consulting my Home Depot app, or tracking down someone from a specific department who can answer.

I may be “just” a cashier, but I get asked about pouring cement, assembling drip-line sprinklers, installing flooring, and pretty much everything else you can think of. I’ve been working a lot of hours in the Garden center, which means I’m getting asked about plant varieties and mulches and fertilizers. It’s an educational job, in the sense that I’m learning more and more as I go. With regard to plants, that has included making a habit of glancing at the tags while I ring them up. Oh, so that’s what a hydrangea looks like. Now I know.

But (just like with freelance writing, where I often don’t have a clue what I’m writing about until after I’ve researched) Google is very much my friend. Is that thing a perennial? Let me find out…

So I was in the Garden section again Sunday morning, enjoying the quiet opening-hour before customers really start showing up, walking among the plants to learn some more names, and thinking of my dad. It was my first Father’s Day without him, and I was thinking about him and his garden. He was a plant physiologist and an avid gardener, a guy who carried photos of his lilies next to photos of his grandkids. Working in Garden I’ve wished I could channel his encyclopedic knowledge of the plant kingdom. Continue reading “A Visit (And a Visitation)”

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery

On Vapors, and Vapers

who vs whomLast week CBS This Morning hosted a lexicographer from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, talking about the malleability of language and the ongoing task of incorporating new words into the dictionary. Although prescriptive grammarians (unlike descriptive ones) would have you believe that our language and its rules are static, nothing could be further from the truth. (Sure, I know when I’m supposed to say “whom”—and I sometimes even do it—but these days those rules are largely at odds with actual usage.)

Speaking to new words that have been recently incorporated, the Merriam-Webster editor gave examples like “photobomb” and “binge-watch.”  By this point, “selfie” has been in the dictionary so long it’s old news. I’m fascinated by the cultural commentary afforded by new words…  The one I’m interested in today has only been in the dictionary for a couple years, and won Oxford’s “word of the year” honor in 2014:

vape definition Oxford word of the year

The Merriam-Webster definition adds to the verb definition of vape: “like someone smoking a conventional cigarette.” That definition might already be outdated. Most of today’s vapes have so little in common with cigarettes that they’re not even getting called e-cigs anymore. Early models did look like cigarettes, but these days they range from boxy models to flashy pens—virtually no resemblance to the nasty originals.

Yup, I just called cigarettes nasty. I actually thought so even for the eight-or-so years that I was obsessively smoking them. And there you have the strange face of addiction. Cigarettes are nasty—but I liked them. They were my friends, They were a treat, every time I lit up, even though I hated the lingering ashtray-odor that clung to me afterward. Continue reading “On Vapors, and Vapers”

Posted in People

Life, and Death. And Life.

fly rodLife in Idaho… I’ve been practicing my fly-fishing cast out in the road behind our RV, aiming to land my fly on a paper plate. Jon has been out with me, working on technique–and he’ll take me to try it on water once I’m hitting that plate regularly. (We picked up our three-year hunting-and-fishing licenses on our anniversary—that’s romance in Idaho!) In the meantime, I’m just excited when I “catch” the paper-plate fish.

Yesterday we took a Sunday stroll through some parts of Boise’s new water park, scoping out the trails and potential fishing spots. The stretch of the Boise River coming through town has been transformed into Class-five rapids thanks to spring run-off, but the little lakes at the park look unbelievably serene.

Esther Simplot park Boise
yup, that’s a view in the middle of our city

I wanted to take some of that serenity home in my pocket. It’s been a rough week.

Walking along the water, we couldn’t help but be thinking of Jon’s best friend Kip… Last Sunday Kip was walking the Greenbelt path along the river with his dog Scratch when he dropped from a sudden heart attack. Kip was just past 50, the “strong-man” of the auto shop where he and Jon worked together. He had an unassuming manner overlaid with the most infectious smile, and his face lit up when he talked about his muscle cars or his Faith.

There’s a huge hole in Jon’s day now–he keeps expecting Kip (or Scratch) to come through the shop door. It felt surreal to write “Kip’s funeral” on our calendar where surely it should have said “Kip to dinner“… Continue reading “Life, and Death. And Life.”

Posted in Family, travel

“Crazyass Passions” & Pencilled Notes

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my adventurous mom—a woman of “crazyass passions”

My mother isn’t one for writing-in-books, so I’m tickled that the book she just mailed me has a sentence underlined with a smiley-face.

I believe in crazyass passion.”

That’s the line she highlighted in Rinker Buck’s Oregon Trail travelogue, and that says plenty about my mother!

She’s a world traveler, kayaker, fly-fisher, river rafter, scuba diver (Nitrox-certified for deep diving),  and always game for a new adventure. She made a great deckhand on a sailing trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands ten years ago, she took my son on a week-long sea-kayaking trip in Mexico last year, she meets for mischief with girlfriends all over the world… and she always has her plane ticket already bought for the “next trip” somewhere. (I believe Panama and Poland are in the current queue…)

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sailing with my mom & my daughter, 2007

If I didn’t know her birth-year, I’d never guess she’s pushing 70, and I continue to wish I had half her energy. (I especially wish that on days when I’m trying to keep up with her at the mall!) I got my travel-bug from both parents, but I got my sense of adventure from her.

I got my bibliophilia from her too, though my penchant for marginalia is something I developed on my own.

Because I DO write in books, I’m accustomed to coming across my prior-self (in the form of penned commentaries) when I re-read my books. I’m not accustomed to coming across other people in my margins, though… So imagine my thrill of surprise today when I picked up my copy of Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” and discovered an unexpected treasure of notes in both my mother’s hand AND my late father’s. (Pencilled, because apparently writing in a book in pen is a little TOO crazyass!) Continue reading ““Crazyass Passions” & Pencilled Notes”