What a perfectly lovely weekend. Friday was a late working night, but a bunch of coworkers and I all went out for sushi for dinner. It was a lot of fun. I constantly find myself lucky to be there (long hours and all).

Country: Tim McGraw

I was also semi-spontaneosuly invited to go catch Tim McGraw Saturday night with some friends. We piled in and got there early for some tailgating. Veggies, hummus, chips, guacamole, cherries, cheese, pepperoni, drinks. I’ve been to a few country concerts, but haven’t tailgated at one until now, and let me tell you, the people-watching is fantastic. Country brings the dirty, the stunning, the shirtless (or, near shirtless, both sexes), the jeans, the intense American pride (people practically dressed in flags, bandanas, you name it, it’s got stars and stripes), the sundresses, the popped collars.

Also apparently top hats.

top hat

This guy was fun to watch throughout. He was having a great time.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Perfect for our lawn seats.

sunset

The concert itself started a little slow, to me, but got going quickly enough. It wasn’t a rock-out (to be fair, the last one I went to was Keith Urban), but it was a fun, sing-a-long time. It was nice to sit there and enjoy it, take the music in, the people, the views. He sang “Live Like You Were Dying” towards the end, which was great. Can’t go without the classic. He hardly even needed to sing; everyone has had those words memorized for years.

We did a small post-concert tailgate while waiting for the cars to clean up a little. They weren’t moving; we were sitting eating and drinking. I think we got some jealous dirty looks from some of the drivers. When we did decide to get going, it was easy.

Camp: Nokomis DC Reunion

I am a summer camp kid. Starting at age 8, I started going to a sleepaway camp on an island in New Hampshire, called Camp Nokomis (no-Koh-miss). I continued there, became an Aide (first year Counselor in Training, or CIT), CIT, and then staff member. It is an incredible place, and taught me so much, instilling values I carry with me today. There is a bond between camp people and particularly your-own-camp people, that is unlike anything else. So through this, one alumna hosted a DC reunion for all the Nokomis gals. It was so fun, meeting new alumna, finding connections – you were my counselor in 12! – and making new ones.

noko1

We looked through old camp calendars, photo albums, played camp-themed charades, and talked about what had changed – or not – through the collective time we were there.

noko2

There is no way to fully describe Camp to a non-camp person. It’s a beautiful thing, and made for a great way to spend part of my day. One of many camp songs:

“You can tell a girl from Camp Nokomis,

you can tell her by her walk (wiggle wiggle).

You can tell a girl from Camp Nokomis,

you can tell her by her talk (giggle giggle).

You can tell a girl from Camp Nokomis by her sportsmanship and such (bang bang).

You can tell a girl from Camp Nokomis,

but you cannot tell her much! (how true)”

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I almost lost a cousin today. Some people did. A brother, a sister, a wife, a best friend, a son. Or are with them, grieving over the place where a limb used to be. Minutes felt like hours as I waited to hear back from her, checked in with other friends and family in Boston or running today. I can’t recall feeling more helpless or scared in years. More. I was sick, I was stressed, worried, trying not to cry in the middle of the conference room. Thankfully I was alone in there for some of the time. I wanted news. Then pictures started getting picked up by the media. I had to stop. Even after I found out my cousin and about everyone I know in Boston was okay. I’m still incredibly rattled. When I called her I got only voicemail and tried really hard to keep calm. It was chaos, she was letting others know she was okay. But how can you know? My heart goes out to all the runners, friends, and family members of the victims. So many people, from all around the world, were hurt or are grieving today. I grieve with you. Love.

I took some time to start getting a handle on life on the trail. My primary reference is the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion for 2013, a publication by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA). Even in that one, there is a warning about possible post office closures between publication and the hike. That’s another effect of the US Post Office’s previous issues as well as new ones with budget cuts – one I hadn’t thought of a lot until now. Many hikers rely on maildrops and send themselves food or other equipment a few towns up, and pick them up at the post office. As I’m reading, there are also many wonderful people and businesses who offer to do the same, but it is something to keep in mind as the date gets closer.

Getting a Handle on the Book

AT Thru-Hikers' CompanionSomehow, ALDHA has managed to condense a national trail that’s 2,184 miles long into less than 280 pages. It’s great in that they’ve done their best to get you what you need without adding unnecessary burden to your pack. That means a lot of abbreviations and quick descriptions. I finally folded down the corner of the page that defines these acronyms until I memorize them. Capitalization can change a meaning, too: m is miles and M is meals/restaurants. Some just throw me, still, for no good reason: R is road crossing. G is groceries. w is water; nw is no water. There were notations next to only the shelters that confused me for a good long while, too. Something about miles? But then there were N and S, neither of which were defined by my handy list (which I’ve now boxed up in pen). I went back over the notes, the write-ups of how the sections were designed. Ah ha! miles to the next shelter. Northbound or Southbound (commonly referred to as NOBO and SOBO). I’ve still got some work to do but I’m getting a handle on the book, finally.

Estimating What You Are and Will Be Capable Of

I dug into the specific Trail features of the states, figuring out how far certain things are from each other, what I could do this day, or that. If I do 8 miles that day, can I push 11 the next? Or should I give myself more time to get used to hiking? What about at day 7? Wait, have I stopped in a town yet to resupply? Do they have fuel, food, a campsite? Should I splurge on a lodge (hotel), or find a campsite? What are my options? I call this my planning-without-planning. I’m not trying to set anything in stone now. I would like to get through the Trail, in the book, like this, calling shots and figuring out how long my days will be. There is a lot to consider. From some of the books, journals, and blogs I’ve been reading, I know sometimes rides back to a trailhead from town can come later than you might want (10am instead of 7am). So that means I should have a plan for fewer miles the day after a town – maybe. At least a backup shelter or campsite if the sun’s setting already and I’d like to eat dinner and sleep. This is how it will be, all of it. I can set nothing in stone. There’s an appeal and a fear in that. I cannot give an end date, and possibly not an end month until I’m well into the trail, and then I may have a better idea of the month. I’m curious to see what my first estimation is – that’s part of why I’d like to run through the book, state by state, and estimate each day: 10m, 15m, 17m. But the tricky part is knowing that somewhere along the trail, I’ll get what I call my “hiking legs” and 20 miles won’t be an impossibility like it is for me today, like it will be for me on day one. I have no way of guessing this. I can have a better idea of what I’m capable of after this summer, which will hopefully involve lots of hiking and camping.

And last, a shout-out

First, to my family for being so awesomely supportive of me. One member in particular has been really great, sending lots of advice (even books!) and ideas, and always support. To my friends, some of whom took it nonchalantly (“Why is this even a question? You’re going.”), some of whom took it kind of stunned (“What? The whole thing? You’re just gonna…go?”), but all of whom have been great (at least, the ones who have replied!). And to my company for proving again to be a great employer. The days I get frustrated get overpowered by the days I feel glad to be there. Being allowed to do this with high likelihood of returning to work (income) when I’m done is rare, I think. That I don’t have to quit and then plead to come back. There’s part of me that knows I probably would have gone anyway, but part of me really wonders. I don’t have to wonder now, though. Everyone took it so well, and I am incredibly grateful.

Adventure awaits.

Does anyone else ever think about what it would be like if they were all in the same room? Or all found you at the same time? It’s a nightmare of mine. Boyfriends. Just-friends who wanted more. Certain crushes. That they all met, that they all started asking questions. You must be. She never told me about. Oh, I heard of you. That guy. And the memories are so close, too close, and you can imagine the conversation. Their voices, the way their body leans against the wall. I daydream. Can you daydream too much? And they find me. And it’s terrifying. Because you never wanted this. But look – there they all are. The has-beens, the what-ifs, the screw-yous. Acting like they know all about me, I can see it. I watch. But they don’t. They know pieces of me, pieces I gave to them.

Sometimes I have what I call day-mares. This isn’t quite one, though it comes close. It took me a long time to figure out what all the dark daymares meant – possibly a story for another time. I won’t figure these out, fully, for awhile.

swirlingThey find me. Because I was worried he would find me. So they all do. It’s why I changed my room code, senior year of college. Three years, nearly, of trusting him with it. It wasn’t the breakup that did it. It was the Tuesday at 8am, when he was outside my door. He didn’t go to my school. He had a lot of friends there. He should have been at his school. He should have been home. I only saw him because I jumped out that morning to sign up for studio space, before anyone else could. I threw on enough clothes to cover with a long winter jacket, and came back to the dorm to properly get ready before meeting a friend for breakfast. He never entered, nothing. But it was a Tuesday. At 8am. And I got scared. He was a nice guy, a good guy. But it was the line. A week or two later I asked my parents if it was okay to charge the extra $100 to have my room code changed. Very few people know that. Know why. He doesn’t even know the truth. When he did find out I’d changed it – that some part of me didn’t trust him – he was pretty angry.

I was glad I had it changed.

Maybe that’s why. Why they all wind up finding me, in these daydreams. Or maybe it’s normal. I don’t know. I’ve only ever been in two relationships. But after each one, after the initial fall-apart, there’s this amazing feeling of freedom. Gradually, I learn to smile with a new memory and not an old. I randomly fall for someone new, or many someones new. And I’m transported to high school, remembering how fun it can be. Eye-candy, crushes, all of it. More daydreams. There’s a certain power in that. All of it, mine. To do with as I please. People can surprise you. More fun is when you surprise yourself.

The strongest friendships prove themselves during this time, right now.

I tend to be the “group photographer.” If you’re one, you know. Always playing catch-up, pausing an extra few moments to get the shot just right. Running to meet them halfway up the block. Zipping into and out of conversations. Most of you is there, but a part of you isn’t. There’s this part of you that’s soaking all of this in, not involved in discussions, just being. Just all of you, being. And so you hang behind, because this is them. These people, they’re yours. So you wait for the right moment. Catch a city shot or a scenic shot while you wait, eyeing their backs, arms slung around each other. And when it’s right, you call out: Guys! Turn around! Aw, come on! And they do, and roll their eyes (you do this a lot, in addition to playing catch-up). And smile. And it’s beautiful. This, right here, is the happiest moment. Years later, it still will be. You don’t even need to be in the picture, because you already know. Those people, in the picture, they’re smiling at you. They are happy, you are happy. Together. Whether you’re physically shown with them or not, you’re there. And those are the best pictures. Those are beautiful.

Say hi to my new addition to the little family of one: Nellie the bichon frise. Sounds fancy, right? Well, she certainly thinks so. She’s a little princess. We’re working on getting her to eat anything but her favorite cheese. Bacon mixed with her (oh-so-boring) dog food was mildly successful.

Nellie playing

Nellie is my parents’ dog – one of them. She arrived here care of my awesome neighbor Friday night. She was in cars, planes, trains, and automobiles before arriving at her new home. I’ve been thinking about getting a dog for awhile. Yeah, part of it was due to the breakup, but a lot of it wasn’t. I love dogs; I’ve always loved dogs; they brighten every day. But I wasn’t sure if I could really handle one right now. I have no one else to care for one, I’m at work most of the day. It’s a big change. I thought about it, talked with friends and family about it, and my parents came up with the brilliant idea of doing a trial run with Nellie. She is relatively trained, knows me, and is pretty adaptable, having come to my parents through adoption a couple years ago. And it would be nice to have a dog ready to greet me after work, take on walks, chill out with. Be goofy.

So I went out and assessed local areas, parks, dog licenses, the nearest animal hospital, potential dog-walkers. Bought a bed, crate, leash, the works. So here she is, curled up in my lap as I type this.

Friday night was a bit nuts. Exciting, but nuts. I left work and took the metro to the airport to meet my neighbor and Nellie. He had her all set up in a carrier and walked her through the madness of airport security, then kept her calm throughout the ride, under the seat in front of him. I’ve totally had a crush on Imeanwhat been fascinated by this neighbor since we met. So like…over five years. Maybe ten. He’s a cool dude. And awesome for dealing with her and basically flying down on a whim. We found a place for Nellie to get out and run around for a bit – and that freedom was all she needed to glare at me when I needed to put her back in her crate. Metro has rules, princess. So we get her/his stuff, get on the metro, transfer, get on another metro, and finally get a cab to my apartment and let her explore her new home. As thanks, I take neighbor out to dinner across the street and it is so crowded I never hear my phone. We got caught up talking until dog-mom kicked it into high gear and we went back. I checked my phone: 2 voicemails from the front desk, about complaints from my neighbors about her barking. So, we should have gotten take-out? Too late now. Cringing, I call back and explain, yes, I have a new dog, and yes, I’m home now, and yes, I’m fine and she’s fine. Apparently my neighbors were worried about me. Wow.My closet makes for a nice bed?

Friday night she slept with me, though whined through half the night for mom and dad. I think I picked this up from our other dog – any time Nellie felt like she was going to jump off the bed, or did jump, I was like a spring, jumping out and getting her back. Our other dog uses this as a good time to leave a mess on the carpet. So it’s practically become a reflex when in the vicinity of one of my dogs. Saturday we were up and at ’em by 8:30 (thanks, dear, for the sleep and sleeping in) and it was a dog day. My neighbor went out on what wound up being a quick touristy-turned-wild-goose-chase to meet with friends and a potential client. Employer? Client. I think. Nellie, at some point, decided that the bottom of my cluttered closet made for a nice place to nap.

I admit, I nearly gave up. I get really freaked out by people complaining, and  wasn’t sure this would work. It’s a lot less space than she’s used to, a lot more crate-time. I freaked. I called my parents. I was almost ready to get her ready to send back home with my neighbor when he left. But, this is new for both of us. People will complain. She will or will not bark. I decided to see how she did, do everything I could to pacify all.

Nellie exploring

I took her outside to learn the lay of her new kingdom, which we explored for over an hour and a half. She is well aware she is the princess. After that I did some bark collar testing, which consisted of trying various things (leave her in the crate, leave her outside the crate, turn the TV on) and waiting in the hallway for a few minutes. Whining was persistent but there was less barking. Still, not quite ready. So we settled down and watched TV together for awhile. I wrote 5 notes for my 5 nearest neighbors, thanking them for their patience as I got my new dog settled in. I placed these in ziplocs, with 2 pieces of chocolate in them. A little while later, I got a knock on my door. Bracing, I opened it, and one of my wall-neighbors said hi, met Nellie, introduced herself, and offered me some chocolate in return. I was a little taken aback – they weren’t meant to be reciprocative? And she said she hadn’t heard anything, and that she was usually home between 4pm and night and if I needed someone to take Nellie out….just wow. Success. Yes? Yes.

We made dinner that night, with some flourishes thrown in by my neighbor. I can bake. I am still learning cooking. It was delicious. Evenings were consumed by movies, talking, and carrying miss Nellie like a rag doll to my bed, where – ideally – she would stay while I brushed my teeth and got ready for bed. So, after I dragged her off neighbor’s bed, we had a much more pleasant night’s sleep. She slept next to me, let me snooze until 10:30 – awesome awesome. Sunday was more adventure-time for neighbor, more dog-time for me. I got some fabulous advice from a friend of mine in vet school who has several dogs, and after walking the neighbor to the metro (Nellie was pretty psyched), I dropped her at home – with the bark collar – and ran to find “rescue remedy” to help calm her down when I was away. She hates the bark collar – and the crate – with a passion. A very excellent guilt-tripping passion. With enough testing and some drops of rescue remedy, I thought I could go out to meet neighbor’s friend and catch the best part of the Superbowl – the halftime show and the ads. 😉 She actually stood up and put her paws on my chest when I leaned down to help her into her crate. Like, “stop, mom.” Killed me. I gave her extra kisses and went out – my phone on loud. This was the test. Because come Monday work calls. We found a quiet bar a few stops away, caught the game (which was only a game in the second half, c’mon guys) and Beyonce’s show. And the power outage. And the ads. And I was hyper-aware of anything happening with my phone. But nothing ever did. My neighbor and I got back and as soon as we got off the elevator, took our hats off and listened.

We listened.

And it was silent.

Success! Wait…what’s that on my door? A yellow post-it? Uh oh.

I sighed, and read the note. This is what it said, from the across-neighbors:

Thank you for the sweets. We are glad to know that everything is fine with you and the dog as we were worried for you. We hope the dog settles well in the new home. Good luck. <names, apt.>

And Nellie was thrilled to see us.

watching West Wing

So, this morning I went to work, leaving my neighbor to take care of her and catch his plane, came home early to work and take her out, and all, for the moment, seems to be well. Almost. She hasn’t been eating much at all. But we gather she’s being picky. I did manage to coax some into her. Hopefully in the next few days she’ll sigh and resign herself to eating actual dog food down here. And we will watch TV. And go for walks. And play. And for now, just be. Like, right now if she can’t be on my lap she’d rather sleep in the small space between my chair and my desk than behind me in her dog bed. D’awwww.

Well, here it is. The end of one glorious year and the start of another. Since lists seem to be the “in” thing these days, I’ve compiled a fun list of events (focused on perks) of 2012 and what I’m planning resolutions-wise and event-wise in 2013.

2012

  • Steampunk-themed contra dance party with fantastic costumes, goggles c/o la boyfriend (now of nearly 2 years)
  • Vacation to Seattle to visit cousins and play tourist
  • Finding out Dad had prostate cancer, supporting him from far away, and then having an “Adios, Cancer!” party when we found out he was cancer-free (44 radiation treatments later)
  • Incredible women’s climbing weekend in West Virginia
  • Interesting, if amusing, debates followed by re-election of President Obama (phew!)
  • Friends-filled college “reunion” going-away party
  • Vacation and travel through Peru, catching 15K heights and Machu Picchu
  • Maryland Renaissance Festival and dress-up
  • Started second novel
  • Joined/helped form an independent author’s collective/publishing imprint
  • Sent over 30 letters to Sandy Hook Elementary School
  • Spent first holiday with boyfriend’s family

2013

Resolutions:

  • Eat breakfast every morning
  • Spend 1 hour before work writing and/or editing
  • Meditate twice a day
  • Still arrive at work at sane hour
  • Make more home-cooked meals (cheaper and healthier!)

Events to Look Forward To:

  • Time-travel-themed contra dance party with boyfriend (yay more dress-up)
  • Parents visiting DC
  • Seeing more old college friends
  • First time going to Las Vegas (conference)
  • Seattle visit with cousins
  • Saturday classes for project management
  • possible Hunger Games food/watching event
  • I turn 25 (woo rental cars!)
  • Attending brother’s wedding in Hawai’i as bridesmaid
  • <Possibilities!>

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope it’s a nice day filled with warm times and your crazy family all coming together.

I write this with a confused and sinking heart, but it’s something I need to do. I have decided not to continue to push to 50,000 words by November 30. I’m barely at 18,000 words now, and life has conspired such that making up the word count I need to “win” is near impossible. One of my friends, Anna, who I met last year through NaNoWriMo, said to me in early November, or possibly late October, that I could win without getting to 50,000. That sometimes, the effort is the winning, whether you get a purple bar and certificate or not.

Let me be clear that I am not giving up on my novel. I’m much more excited about this idea, and where the characters are taking themselves, than I was about my first novel attempt last year. I have two more write-ins I’m hosting, and I will stick to those. And I will write. But I will not make it to 50,000 words by November 30 midnight. Aside from the fact that I took a (fantastic) vacation, then took two more days to “get back” from vacation to spend with my boyfriend and watch Lincoln and relax, I am also going after another certification for work, which I need to hardcore study for. And of course, there is Thanksgiving. I am home, and will be home for the next several days, and I need that, too.

Here is what I’m thankful for. I am thankful for having both of my brothers in the same house. I am thankful for my sisters-in-law, my niece playing with princess dresses one day and lizards and insect toys the next, for my expected niece in March. For my parents, both back in good health and together. For a job as I watch others lose them. For listening to Girlyman and Hawaiian music on Pandora. For most of the rest of my family arriving shortly for a plentiful Thanksgiving feast. For my boyfriend, who continues to put up with my ups and downs and calls me just because. For my friends, all around the world, who provide more love and support than they know. For my experiences and new friends made in Peru. For the view outside my parents’ house. For Brie cheese and Moscato. For two dogs and a frog. For the glowing woodstove, for drinking around it catching up on random pieces of life. I am thankful for being able to tell people “I’m a writer” and not feeling awkward about it. I am a writer. And this novel I’m working on? Someday I’m going to publish it.