A few weeks ago, I saw a woman walking out of a store carrying a skull about three feet high with a spider coming out of its eye socket. “That’s spectacular,” I said, to which she replied with a laugh, “I KNOW! I’m totally going to show up the two gay guys who live across the street!” With an attitude like that, I assumed she lived in Petaluma, but no, she lives up north. Happy Halloween to her and to all!

Not as many people decorated this year. The decorating pirates of Cavity Cove are out of town, and that leaves a sad, sad hole in its place.

But my other crazy buddies are at it, as good as ever. This year, a camping theme:

This is what happens to Christmas reindeer who come out too early. Don’t try to usurp Halloween!

w00t! White water rafting from the roof!

Led by Mr. Bean

But the water’s not always safe.

The homeowner was busy decorating, so I asked permission to take photos. “Sure. Are you going to be around on Halloween night?” When I said probably not, she said, “Well, go in the garage. There’s more. It’s going to be GHOUL SCOUT CAMP!”

These people are my heroes.

Welcome to Troop 666

I wanted to take more pictures of the garage, because it was a treasure trove. But that made me feel creepier than all the insects and taxidermy on the other wall. (Maybe next year.)

Camp Kill-O-A

Kill-O-A at Lake Lucifer is protected! If the animatronic guard dog doesn’t get you…

This killer raccoon will.

   

Halloween in Petaluma, it sucks you in!

Many people cry when they leave home, but I’ve cried when I have to return. When my year as an exchange student ended, I sobbed. While I looked forward to seeing family and friends, I was leaving both a life-changing adventure and my first real love behind. I didn’t know when I’d be able to return.

A few years later, between my first and second semester in graduate school, I traveled sola through Costa Rica for almost a month. I seriously contemplated sending a postcard home telling my parents to sell my car and send the proceeds. Responsibility won in the end, and I traveled home and finished school. But I cried the night before I left. I’ve never been back.

My recent travels, in contrast, have been as tear-free as baby shampoo. I’ve finally reached a wonderful stage of life – one in which I love traveling, but I also love coming home. And for the record, I felt this way before we moved into our own house. I do love our house, but I also love our local friends, our community, and the rural-suburban blend of Petaluma.

That made leaving on our latest trip strange. We left for a (long-planned) vacation only two days into the Sonoma County wildfires. When we left – the fires uncontained, the air thick with smoke – we were unsure if we’d have house to return to. It was unnerving to leave, even though I knew I’d be useless to save our place if fire came.

The clean, beautiful Hawaiian air was better for my asthma. Still, everywhere we went, people asked about the fires. We checked the news more regularly than we otherwise would on vacation. My phone pinged with texts from worried friends and family. The constant stories of loss, the statistics on containment, the maps of destruction, they were everywhere. My heart broke, and it continues to ache, for those who lost their homes.

We’re so lucky. Not only to be able to travel, but to have a place to come home to – a place filled with stories of generosity and bravery. Firefighters who risked their lives, restaurateurs who fed evacuees and refused payment, churches and gyms that served as shelters. I loved Kauai, but I love Sonoma County more. And I love her and her people more now than ever!

Absolutely! (Warning: this leads to ear worm song.)

Just like home! Petaluma used to be the Chicken Capital of the World. Kauai is vying for the title.

This hike skirted the edge of cliffs, but didn’t try to kill me.

The only good flames. Hot rod — er, rusty truck — flames.

He may be selfie-averse, but he keeps me laughing! (Happy anniversary!)

Hey, Kauai, please send more of your rain our way!

WTF happened to the practice of counting change? Before: you went to the store, the total was $7.25, you gave the clerk $10, and she said, “75 gives you 8, and 9 and 10.” Now: total is $7.25, you give the clerk $10, and If you’re lucky, she says, “2.75 is your change.” More often than not, she simply shoves a bunch of change at you.

This irks me on more than one level. First, customer service. It’s not particularly friendly to jam a fistful of money at someone. Second, it makes me feel like a miser who’s slowing down the line when I purposely stop to count my change and make sure I received the correct amount. (Note: it’s not always the correct amount. I tell them either way.)

I’ve noticed on the rare occasion that someone counts out change in old-school style, they are almost always over the age of 40. Seriously, pay attention and report back to me. Do you get your change counted out? Is the person 40+?

 

The first time I taught, I was a young-looking 28 or 29. Many of my students were in their 20s. I looked like one of them. I had to convince them I was the teacher. Last Tuesday when I walked in to my classroom at the local junior college, I had to bite my tongue not to blurt out, “I am not your teacher.”

I’m a student again, though I don’t have a back-to-school photo to prove it. While I’ve taken workshops for fun and attended seminars for work, I haven’t been an official student since the 90s. My classmates weren’t even born yet.

Why am I back in school? I’ve always loved learning, but I never took an economics class. The older I get, the more that feels like a gaping hole in my education. In high school, it’s a common subject, but it wasn’t taught in mine. In college I was nearly killed by pre-calculus, so anything that involved graphs or required calculators terrified me. I’ve since figured out a lot of economics from self-study and reading newspapers but felt I’d learned all I could on my own.

Now I have Macroeconomics two days a week — complete with textbooks, a scientific calculator, quizzes, and tests. Here’s to hoping it’s enlightening. Now, I’ve got to go read about the GDP.

“Companion” stems from the Latin words com + panis with and bread – that is, the person you break bread with. I love that, not only because eating together is a joyful part of friendship but also because I am a huge word nerd.

When I learned Count is from the Latin word for companion, I knew I had the perfect title for the voice in my head that tells me to eat when I shouldn’t. I’ve mentioned before that the voice is as tempting as a Latin lover. Thus, the Count. Count Who?

Count Adipose. Put less eloquently (less Latin-ly?), “The Earl of Fatty.”

I hate envy admire the people who don’t have internal, infernal struggles with food – those people who naturally stop before they’re full, who can bypass chocolate altogether or be satisfied with one small piece. I am not one of those people. When I’m feeling good and things are going well, I can pretend to be. I can act like one of those people, but it doesn’t come naturally or easily.

With continued pretending, perhaps healthy eating habits will become habitual and The Count will win only on the most special occasions. Habitual is not the same as natural, but I’ll take it.  

Growing up as an addict in California, I never got the fix I needed. A Christmas addict, that is — and more importantly, a Christmas carol addict. I’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas since I first sang the song. But in coastal California, the closest we ever get to a white Christmas is a foggy one, and trust me it’s just not postcard worthy. I’ve wanted a white Christmas forever, and this past year I finally had one thanks to a family reunion in Montreal. Family was fantastic, and the snow was as good as I’d hoped it would be.

Snow!

A real reason to wear knit hat. Snow!

Having grown up in temperate California, I was afraid I’d look like a dorky gigantic Michelin man in my down coat. I was assured that I’d look just like everyone else. I did, in fact, look like everyone else. And within a few minutes of being toasty warm despite the snow, I didn’t care how poofy I appeared.

Snowball

Snowball in his hand. Not really a fair fight, because he has much more experience than me.

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Clock tower along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River.

I managed to get a picture of this non-existent triathlon, but I missed an awesome video opportunity. There was an outdoor skating rink near the river, and people were skating in the snow. The loudspeakers were blasting the theme song from Frozen in French. I laughed out loud, because the lyrics “The snow never bothered me, anyway,” have never been more appropriate than in that very moment. (But it was way too cold at that point to take off my gloves and fumble with camera settings.)

race

Strangely enough, we didn’t see many competitors. (Bad race director.)

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This racer gave up the fight.

Speaking of opportunities, we did not miss our chance for a Christmas treat — pulled maple. The snow-town moral equivalent of saltwater taffy. Yum. Tasty as it was, though, it wasn’t nearly as delicious as many of the meals we had while there. The food in Montreal is delicious, and not just the poutine. All the food.

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Maple on snow, a Quebecois treat.

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It ends up a sticky delicious maple lollipop. One a year would be plenty.

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Tire sur niege means taffy on snow. It also translates to happy husband.

And some holiday magical moments…

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Christmas Eve fireworks over the river. Snow & fireworks, both! My head nearly exploded from joy.

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Christmas Day hike up Mount Royal.

We would have had fun together no matter where we were, but special thanks to my crew for indulging me my long-time dream of a white Christmas (even though they’ve each had plenty of them and would have been just as happy with a sunny beach).

 

The old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” But in our case, it’s “One man’s trash is the next man’s really rusty trash.”

Today’s our houseversary: one year ago, we moved into our house. We’ve found a lot of stuff since then. During excavation, some neighbors said we might find Native American artifacts. Not a one, nor any gold coins.

Here’s a sampling of the “treasures” we’ve found:

  • ceramic shards
  • glass shards, multi-colored
  • beer bottles
  • the top of a wine bottle with the cork still in it (Someone was thirsty and desperate.)
  • salt shaker
  • shovel with rusty teeth
  • toy boat
  • propane tank
  • bathtubs, several (We saved a rusty old cast iron tub, unsure still what we’ll do with it. If it ever had cute claw feet, they’re long gone, or very deeply buried.)
  • tires, more than a dozen
  • bird feeder

But the most surprising? An old truck hood, half-buried.

Who knows what we’ll find next? Probably not gold. And before any of you say “tetanus,” we’re both up to date on tetanus boosters.

Stop saying you’re moving to another country. Stop googling Canadian citizenship. You aren’t going anywhere. It’s an empty threat, meaningless venting.

You know where we should all move? One step closer to the opposing view – a step closer so we can hear what people are saying.  A little closer so we can stop shouting. Nobody can hear anything across the vast dividing line that’s been drawn between US and THEM.

This election has left me exhausted and disappointed – mostly at our inability to communicate with each other. There’s a lot of talk, but it’s mostly sound bites and arguments, not questions and clarifications.

This election was divided, yes. But I refuse to believe that half the county is racist/misogynist, just as refuse to accept the other half are bleeding-heart liberal communists. Discourse has devolved to “Go Team!” and “You people suck.”

I’ve mostly shied away from political discussions, not because I don’t care or because I don’t have opinions. Rather, I shy away because I feel nobody’s really listening. They’re too busy either trying convince me I’m wrong, dumb, stupid or they’re congratulating me for being on the same side of the argument as them. My shying away stems from growing up the outlier in nearly every single family discussion. I felt dismissed and unheard.

But I’m a grown-up now, and my goal going forward is to be more forthcoming with my opinions and beliefs as well as my confusions and questions –- and to encourage thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate by asking questions of those I may disagree with and really listening to their answers.

It’s more fun to say, “Hey, I never thought of it that way before” than it is to say, “HOW on earth can you think that?” OK, maybe not fun, but surely more civil and more open-minded.

Advice for next year’s Halloween costume. If you are going to a party, wear a comfortable costume. If you’re going to a concert/costume contest, which is sure to be crowded, don’t wear costumes that protrude out beyond you, for example, bat wings. Even more important, if you should choose to ignore my advice and wear bat wings, don’t hammer so many beers that you don’t realize that your “dancing” (drunken gesticulation) is causing your wings to molest everyone around you. Just don’t do it.

With that PSA done, here are this year’s Halloween photos. First, Cavity Cove. Because it’s always fun. Today as I was taking pictures, the owner of the house was still putting up finishing touches. I asked him how many trick-or-treaters they get, and he said depends on the weather and on the day of the week, but last year they got about three thousand (yes, 3000!). He said they’ve lived there 14 years, but that the tradition of insane in a good way decorations on D Street goes back 50 years. Thanks, Mr. Cavity Cove, for carrying on the tradition, and for raising money for the local homeless shelter, COTS.

On site dentristy = take a picture with Cavity Cove's resident "Demented Dentist."

On site dentistry = take a picture with Cavity Cove’s resident “Demented Dentist.”

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The dentist couldn’t help the mermaid victim of sharknado.

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Don’t like smoke? Suck it up anyway, because “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

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I usually hate these decals, but I’ll forgive you, Mr. Cavity Cove, because you and they are awesome.

Down the street a bit, this giant snake lurks in waiting.

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He’s so colorful, he’s a party.

The collaboration-competition houses have grown from two to four houses. They have a lot of stuff. Some of it’s themed, some just creepy.

Is that the Colonel?

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I’m not hungry any more.

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“Maybe if we look cute, they won’t want to eat us? How are we doing?”

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It’s like Farm to Table cuisine, only ickier.

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They’re hungry and waiting in line for the chicken diner.

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The Zombie Drum Band

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Moonshine, a hillbilly treat

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Scary swamp people

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More scary swamp critters

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Ack! Even scarier critters

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The scariest critters of all

 

 

My saxophone lessons were going well, until I became determined to learn “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock” in time for last Christmas. Then, I over-practiced “Tequila.” I ended up with an injured thumb. For real, I have a saxophone injury. Worse even than pausing my musical progression is that my trigger thumb has stopped my knitting. This may not sound like much to a non-knitter, but imagine the one thing you do to relax and de-stress and then imagine being unable to partake in that activity. The hole left behind allows stress and worry to fester, and it’s not as if I need assistance with stress and worry.

So, I decided to train for a half marathon. I figured it would take my mind off my thumb, get me closer to Fit Before 50, and maybe feed my creativity a little.

In the course of training, a foot issue that I’ve had since I was about 20 decided that it had had enough with the relentless pounding of mile after mile. It didn’t hurt while I walked, but it throbbed afterward. The podiatrist I found was kind and snarky at the same time. He suggested that I didn’t HAVE to do this event, but understood when I told him I needed a sense of accomplishment. I didn’t want this to be the Year of Thwarted.

With the decision to continue training, I finally understood the athletes I’ve seen all these years, the ones with braced up knees and taped up whatnots, still pushing through the miles. Sometimes, you just have to finish what you start, even if it’s not a pretty or entirely joyful process. Happily, it didn’t all suck. I discovered new trails, listened to happy music, learned that training alone is fun (no worries about slowing people down when you’re walking sola).

And? I finished. I stuck to my training. I did the half marathon. Faster than I was 17 years ago when I did my first marathon! Nearly 30 minutes faster. It’s probably the end of my walking endurance events, but it’s nice to go out on a high note, instead of surrendering to the thwartedness.

UnThwarted

The turtle necklace has done every endurance event with me. I almost quit before my first marathon. My brother in law reminded me of the tortoise and the hare. “Slow & Steady! You’ve got this!” The next day, I went out shopping for Tortuga. My dad said, “I’ll buy it for you, so I can be there with you during your marathon.”

Stay tuned for what I decide to do next (back to swimming? cycling?) and for what I decided to name my demon.