Getting (t)Here

I’m getting there. With this book, with this life, with my attitude shift which is often two steps forward and any number greater than that steps back. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. It threatens to undo my seams and send my stuffing about the room. But as I always say to my massage clients, “Change hurts whether it’s physical or emotional. Positive change requires a stretch from a smaller place to a bigger place, and even change in the right direction can be uncomfortable.”

Taking my own advice remains on my list of important things to do.

I have a million things I want to say about my arrival in Florida, but first I have to talk about getting here.

My departure from New Mexico was bittersweet. I finished a solid draft of my book, which was what I went there to do, so even though it isn’t ready to print, I have to admit: mission accomplished.

To say that I was blissful upon completion is an understatement for the elation I felt. The event coincided with meeting up with Todd, an old Missoula friend, who I’d only seen once in three months. Despite us both regretting the absence of each other during my time in Taos, I consider it to be a blessing because the man is intoxicating. With the addition of him to my daily life I might not have accomplished the mission and might not have felt the joy of completion and a whole bunch of other things that wouldn’t have made the reunion what it was. Timing is everything and serendipity is beautiful.

Truth be told, I was ready to leave New Mexico several weeks before I did. The spring winds kicked up and I felt like they wanted to blow me out of the state, but I hung in there, hard as it was. Wind is an agitator not only of the earth, but also of the people on it. Wind tends to affect mood negatively, but that depends on the season, the person, and where you’re starting from. Remember what I said about change? Yeah, winds of change. But with over 96,000 words in a single document with chapter numbers and titles and all that, I started to look at the place differently.

My cabin walls no longer seemed to be caving in on me. Dust blew in and out of the cabin and covered me, my stuff and the dog, but I knew I’d only have to clean it once more: on the way out. Nights on the town seemed like a good idea and not something that would derail progress. I started to say “yes” a lot more and I liked the feel of it on my lips. I laughed, I flirted, I soaked off three months of sitting at my writing table into the hot springs.

My conversations transformed. I started to have a different story to tell my friends, neighbors, and Winda, the postmaster, who was sometimes the only person I’d speak to on the longer, lonelier writing stints. Instead of “Still working…” I was able to say with confidence, “I finished!” I realized what I’d known all along: these people were rooting for me. These people who I knew mostly peripherally were on my team, wanted me to succeed, and gave me hugs, smiles, and high-fives.

Many times I felt like a burden to these people because I felt like a burden to myself. Pent up from tapping keys I’d erupt into lengthy conversations about anything just to get some sort of exchange going to help temper the one sided conversation going on between me and the endless pages in front of me. But as my departure loomed I discovered something: I hadn’t been as much of a pain in the ass as I thought I’d been. They told me they’d miss me, that I’d helped them, that I’d been there for them when they needed someone to talk to.

Angie, the caretaker at the farm who soothed my heavy landing, gave me a handmade card (a classy one, not a crayon drawing) and a gorgeous (also handmade by her) mug that fits perfectly in my paw. It’s interesting: I received a mug on arrival from my childhood friend Rich, and a mug upon departure from Angie, a true angel. Is it too cheesy and/or contrived to say that my cup runneth over? Perhaps. Do I care? No way!


Eric and Elizabeth, the owners of the farm, gave me a lovely send off though I’d only known them for a couple of weeks as they’d been in Ecuador all winter. It doesn’t do them justice to say they’re groovy people, and Eric told me he liked “meeting my energy” and hopes I’ll return to San Cristobal. I stopped on my way out for one more hug from postmaster Winda, who wished me safe travels. “Stay in touch,” she said, “You know where to find me.” I asked her for her P.O. Box number, and she laughed, “Um. That’s not necessary. I can find me.”

I left the day before a snowstorm hit the area and even before I got to Oklahoma I could feel it. I felt it between my teeth and in my eyes in the form of dust blowing around in sixty mph winds. The sky was blue but you could hardly tell.


The day was righted by a stop at this ridiculously adorable cafe swathed in one of my favorite colors:


Because I had the encounter with the elk on my way to New Mexico, it felt appropriate to set my sights on Elk City, Oklahoma for my first night on the road on my way out of New Mexico. It was a bad idea, but I didn’t know it until I arrived in town to find that La Quinta, my goto dog friendly hotel, was booked. Apparently Elk City is having an oil boom and I didn’t get the memo.

I ended up at the Motel 6, where they gave me a discount for not being an oil worker. The entire motel smelled and sounded like men away from home, and my room had linoleum floors. A quick finger swipe on the tub determined I would not be taking a bath, and would be wearing flip flops in the shower. Elk City doesn’t believe in good coffee, so I wouldn’t get one of those the next morning until I got to Oklahoma City.

My destination that day was Hot Springs, Arkansas, childhood home of Bill Clinton. I’d always wanted to go to Hot Springs. I attempted it once when my (now ex) husband and I drove cross country in 1999, but a snow storm made us change course. As we sometimes know things that don’t make sense, I knew i’d be back. As soon as I dipped off I-40 and into Arkansas I was in love with the state. No joke.

After three months in dry, arid New Mexico it was love at first sight. My hair, skin, and cuticles seemed to come back to life and I rolled the windows down and inhaled what can only be described as freshness. I’d been disappointed in Oklahoma that I ate a Starbucks egg-white wrap a few miles before seeing the all you can eat fried catfish sign, but all was righted when I found a place that served me pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and catfish. I washed it down with my favorite road trip guilty pleasure: Diet Dr. Pepper on lots of rocks.


I drove through the Ouachita National Forest (put it our your list) as the sun was going down, and took lots of pictures, but my favorite is of the best travel companion ever doing what he does best: loving life and striking a pose.


It wasn’t the way I planned it, but we pulled into the town of Hot Springs at dark. I drove the strip before finding the historic hotel I’d already picked out because it’s downtown and dog friendly plus has the added bonus of a restaurant with a dog friendly patio. I wasn’t hungry (obviously) and the place didn’t strike me when I pulled up, so I drove up the road to make a u-turn but instead stumbled on the Happy Hollow Motel, which looked like my kind of place. Serendipity: I love it.

This was it the next morning:


I rang the doorbell for the owner and he checked me in—fifty bucks!—and gave me a basket of goodies including a few kitkats and leftover-from-Easter malted eggs. While I inhaled those, Lucky played mayor in the parking lot of the motel we’d be staying in for exactly twelve hours.

He found David Sydnor sitting on his porch. It took David and I about three exchanges before we discovered that we’d both spent the last three months writing books, me in my cabin, he at the Happy Hollow. I promptly took a seat and we talked for a good long time. I wanted to walk Lucky around town, but David and I had a few things to talk about first.

He runs a carriage company in Memphis and claims to have “the only barn where you can find diamonds and manure.” His claim to fame is his intricately decorated Mardi Gras carriage, which is one of the main characters in his book, his favorite grey horse another one.

He told me a true story about how one of the crystals fell off the carriage and landed in the lap of a nine-year-old girl who was going in for a serious surgery the next day. He told her the crystal bead was an angel tear, and when she went in for surgery she refused to let it out of her hand. The doctor obliged and broke protocol, wrapping surgical tape around the girl’s hand, securing the crystal to her palm.

After the surgery her first question was, “Where’s my angel tear?” They unwrapped her hand and the crystal was gone. The story goes that the angel tear went to heaven and the little girl got to stay. With my jaw dropped and eyes wide, David excused himself and came back with a red crystal in his hand for me. “It’s my last one,” he said, “and I want you to have it to keep you safe while you travel.” I strung it on dental floss and hung it off my rearview mirror next to my Northern Lights crystals from my deceased friend Corey’s mom, the crystals that I’m certain kept me safer than not when I t-boned the elk in the middle-of-nowhere Colorado.

Here’s David with the binder that contains his book, pictures of his horse (I can’t remember her name!) and the famous carriage.


Pumped up from my time with David, I explored downtown Hot Springs and it didn’t disappoint. Lucky and I walked for almost two hours, while I chatted with Charlotte and got caught up after my winter of being mostly sans telephone. The town is beautifully illuminated at night, and it felt good to move through the humidity in shorts and a t-shirt. I didn’t get to go inside anywhere, but walked by the Gangster Museum of America, several old bathhouses and dozens of shops and eateries from another era. I spied my favorites—hear no evil, see no evil, smell no evil—in a store window and went back the next day to buy them for the Florida house without knowing how perfectly they’d match my mother’s color scheme.




Bad weather was coming, so I didn’t have time for a soak before heading off to Memphis, but I filled up my water bottles at the spring. And again, I’ll be back. I just know it.


It’s a good thing I stocked up on water, because let’s just say my time in Memphis wasn’t focused on hydration. We whooped it up. Bridges, my long lost soul sister, drove over from Alabama and we stayed at her parents’ house which recently sold. Things are getting packed up, and I’m quite likely their last house guest. Honored doesn’t do it justice, nor does it do justice to the hospitality I was shown by Bridges and two of her longtime friends, Marla and Monte Claire.

Bridges greeted me the way any good Southerner will—with a cold beer and a spell on the porch—then we had to move my car around back. No room for Bridges in the front seat? No problem! Lucky made room….I love the joy in this photo.


We got ready for dinner, and I joked about being “under coifed” for the south. No problem! Bridges just happened to have a “bump it” (among many other necessary things) in her purse and hooked me up. Anyone can take a trip to Memphis, but not every Yankee can get shown around by three natives. We didn’t cruise Beale Street—apparently that’s for tourists and kids—but hung out in midtown and had what Bridges had promised me a month earlier: a “bigtime.”

Monte Claire’s sincere interest in my book broke me open, and Marla told me I was “a blast,” which given a couple of drinks on both ends and her accent I mistook for a moment as “blessed,” which threw us into hysterics. Goodness gracious, Memphis lived up to it’s reputation as one helluva fun town. {thank you, ladies…}


And a solo shot of the demure and mysterious Marla:


We capped off the night in a taxi that Bridges had make a stop at Crystal, her favorite late night greasy spoon. Crystal is one of those things that seems like a good idea at the time, but the next morning not so much. Just to confirm there’s not a lot of shame in my game, here’s me getting down with a burger in the back of the cab.


Our driver had the patience and goodwill to take me on a middle-of-the-night tour of downtown, which Bridges and I repeated in the morning, which included drive-bys of the Orpheum, Sun Studios, and a pit stop at Gus’s Fried Chicken, my last request before driving into what would turn out to be a day of solid rain and near misses with tornados.


I was sad to say goodbye to Memphis when we were just getting started, but I know I’ll be back. It’s a gorgeous town with an incredible pulse. It looks like this:



I can’t promise you a “bigtime,” but really, you should do yourself a favor and visit that historic, gracious, beautiful city.

There’s not much to say about the rest of the day except that I was glad to be driving a Subaru with new tires as I hydroplaned my way through the South and into the panhandle of Florida. I used my earbuds and talked on the phone much of the way to good friends who entertained me with stories so I could focus on something other than my fear of being swept up in a tornado.

I hit Florida soil that night where I ate my first Waffle House meal, and the next day arrived in Naples where I’ll be hanging my hat through most of June. There’s only one fair way to describe my first few weeks in Florida, and that is to say that it’s been one awesome reunion and surprise after another.

But that’s another blog post….thanks, as always, for showing up and being a part of my journey. Big love to those of you I know, and those of you I don’t know yet.

Just Because

My family has always been big on “just because” gifts, and it’s a custom I adore and have adopted as my own. It’s such a thrill to buy someone something just because it’s perfect for them or the time, and not because it’s Christmas or a birthday. “Just because” gifts say I’m thinking about you and you’re special; they say I love you all the time, not just two or three times a year.

It always saddens me that people get so stressed out about buying gifts. Will she like it? Am I spending enough? What is he getting for me? Yuck. It’s sick and we all know it, yet most of us partake in the craziness. I’m a terrible spoiler of surprises, and if I buy someone a gift in advance of the holiday it was intended for I usually give it early. I just can’t help myself.

I recently bought my friend Rich a locally distilled bottle of rye, not even knowing if he likes rye, because it was bottled on his last birthday, the start of his fortieth year. It brought me so much joy, and as I learned through my friend Dan Comstock, “Giving and receiving are the same.”

Two days ago I received a typed letter—single spaced and over two pages long—from my friend Geoff. It contained just exactly the words I needed to read on that day, the fourth of a ten day cleanse. I save all my cards and letters, but that one gets top shelf. Among other things, he said:

It seems you bring out the nice side of me. I love the way you get me to be honest, how you can be direct with some care and that you don’t pull punches. I trust you so much…

Then yesterday I received a “just because” gift from a boarding school friend, which because of our age makes her clearly an old friend. We stay in touch but I haven’t seen her in forever, though I hope that with my planned east coast time this spring and summer that that will change.

I knew the gift was coming because Hilary asked me what color I’d like and my address. She needed to ship my gift UPS, and I’ve only received one UPS package since I’ve been here—and that one I intercepted on the road—but was confident it would work.

I live in a cabin on a farm with some other cabins and casitas. As the weather has grown warmer I’ve started to get to know my neighbors better, and in the past week I’ve had a couple of knocks on my door. They startle me, just as a ringing telephone will when I get back to having one of those.

For well over a month not one person showed up unexpected, and now I have knocks. Avi knocked yesterday when I was only half dressed, and I threw on a shirt to answer the door and he had a small, square box in his hands, “You got a package!” he said, “It looks like a ring?!”

I love that he thought it was a ring; how funny. Avi is twenty-three and adorable. He throws pots, works at a restaurant in the ski valley, and coaches a ski team. He’s never without a megawatt smile, and is one of the sweetest human beings I’ve ever met. He’d been feeling under the weather so I hooked him up with some herb concoctions and made him a “drink” that wrinkled the poor boy’s face. After that we set to opening my package.

Hilary is a sales rep for a company called Wimberly, and their bracelets were recently featured in People’s StyleWatch. I saw the spread in the magazine (one of my guilty bathtub pleasures), and when she posted it on Facebook I commented that I wanted it. May have said needed it….She sent me a message: I’m sending you that bracelet. What color do you want? The magazine showed the one with the bee, but the link she sent was of the horseshoe, which I also love and would never, ever argue with.

Without hesitation I said “Turquoise!”


{Note: I did not wash or brush my hair, but did put on lipstick. And yes, it was tank top weather in New Mexico today. In case you were wondering.}

I thanked her before I received it and she replied:

I know you are going to love this piece and I’m so glad that you have chosen the bee. Bees are a symbol of the hard work that results in a sweet reward; a wonderful reminder to continue to enjoy the sweetness of our lives. Historically they are also one of the most prevalent symbols of rebirth and good fortune. Lady, I’m so impressed that you continue to appreciate, and most importantly acknowledge, the steps you have made as it takes a brave and strong soul to know how to be true to oneself.

P.S. When your book goes to print one of Wimberly’s horseshoes will be added to the mix.

I have no doubt, with these friends of mine, that I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Thank you, Hilary; thank you, Geoff. And seriously: thanks to all of you.

breaking (it) down

I’m on the verge of really taking this house apart. Until now it’s remained mostly functional though every day the ratio of bags and boxes to furniture tips in favor of the former. But the functionality is going to change in the next few days.

The kitchen will get mostly boxed up. The contents of the bathroom shelves will be discarded or put into toiletry bags for travel. More papers will be sorted. More clothes donated. More CDs imported to itunes. More decisions will be made—how many books can I bring? How many pairs of socks? Electric Kettle?

More tears will be shed. These are not sad tears, but it begs the question: what exactly are “happy” tears anyway?

It’s easier to comprehend sad tears. The tears of grief, loss and longing all make more logical sense than tears over something beautiful, touching, or tender. But lately I’ve wept tears of gratitude.

It’s a cleansing and a release. I’m giving myself permission to feel all of the emotions associated with this big step that I’m taking, and I’m not suppressing anything. This doesn’t make me feel weak; it makes me feel strong.

The support I’m receiving is blowing my mind. Boatloads of validation, recognition and encouragement are pouring over me. These people I love so dearly are buoying me up in a way that makes me believe I can’t fail, and that intensity is making me weep with gratitude.

I weep for my employers who graciously accepted my resignation and told me it was bittersweet—they’d miss me, but they’re happy for me—and, “Can we have a signed copy of your work when you are published?”

I weep for the friend who, when this plan was in its infancy stage, said, “Don’t let anything get in your way.”

I weep for the friends who unashamedly tell me they’ll miss me, and though I can’t promise I’ll be back to stay, I remind them I’m leaving a (small) storage unit here, so will be back. I’ll miss them too.

I weep at the thought of not coming back here, but I know I need this opportunity to see, feel, and feast on new things.

I weep for the friend who made me a box set of CDs. With liner notes. Amazing.

I weep for my co-worker who gave me a phenomenal massage the day after I officially made my decision and at the end, when I was handing her the cash I’d already carefully counted out, she said, “No. This one is on me.” I resisted, but she did too. “Keep it for gas money,” she said, “And when you’re cruising along and you come across a beautiful canyon, think of me and send some of that good energy my way.” She told me she’d been feeling a little down and my excitement lifted her up and allowed her to remember that anything is possible and she’ll get her adventure soon.

I weep for everyone who understands that giving and receiving are the same.

I weep for one of my favorite couples who had me over for dinner last night. He sent me off with an atlas, and she gave me a romance novel she couldn’t put down. I weep for the people who get each other.

I weep for the friend who says she’ll come over with a trailer at the end and scoop up all the leftovers and cast offs. She’ll store them in her boyfriend’s warehouse and as new people move to town (or return, because that’s what happens around here) she’ll be able to give them a table, chairs, a lamp, a dresser, a soup pot, etc.

I weep for all of my Missoula friends who say they will visit. My writing project could be toast(!) if everyone does, but I sure hope most of them make it down so I can share my experiences with them.

I also weep for the friends I’ll live closer to; the friends I can meet halfway if we each drive two easy hours.

I weep for my generous landlords who are giving me a couple extra days into January so I don’t have to be completely out on New Years Eve, though that would be appropriate since I moved to Missoula twelve years ago on New Years Eve. Twelve whole years ago. WOW. Thank you, Missoula.

I weep for this community that accepted me right out of the gate and that has grown up alongside me, for this community that lets me go when I need to, but that doesn’t hold a grudge and always welcomes me back.

I weep for the friend who I visited a month ago who encouraged me to talk about how I was feeling and through my instantaneous sobbing my response was, “I need new scenery. I need to feel lost.” I weep for the recognition that trip gave me, and the friends who were there to talk, listen, and share.

I weep for everyone who is willing to be authentic, honest and true: You make the world go round. Your vulnerability is noble.

I weep for the friends who tell me they’re proud of me. For the friend who toasted me on Thanksgiving when she said, “A lot of people say they’re going to do things but they don’t follow through. Jaime Stathis is not one of those people.” (She said this because of my drive to collect clothes for Hurricane Sandy victims, but I heard her voice encouraging me as I made this leap.)

I weep for the friends who remind me that I’m making an investment in myself and that I’m worth it.

I weep (in advance) for the friend who is dropping something off for me this morning. She said I don’t have to pack it up and take it with me. Did she bake for me?

Okay, maybe I’ll stop all this weeping so I can enjoy a delicious treat…If I don’t have to pack it, then what could it be if not a baked good? #icanhardlywait

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” Winnie-the-Pooh

UPDATE: I didn’t have to wait long. My baking machine of a friend delivered a sweet box of four homemade holiday cookies. Salted chocolate chip, Polish apricot, Mexican wedding, and powdered sugar dusted chocolate. They’re as beautiful as she is, inside and out.