Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Taking My Life Back

Last week something happened that made me take stock of my life good and hard. On Tuesday morning I wound up in the ER with chest pains. They had occurred before, in fact almost daily for the past few weeks, but not nearly as intense. I pushed through them because I had so much to do and people were depending on me. But on Tuesday the pain was severe and after two hours did not go away. I called my doctor and was told to call 9-1-1. I didn't. Instead, I hopped into an Uber and went to the ER at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, where they immediately hooked me up to an EKG and slapped me into a bed. There was even more concern when they learned that my mother had died at 52 from heart disease. (Yes, I know I should have dialed 9-1-1 instead of taking Uber. I have been lectured about that, believe me.)

Nine hours later, after several EKG's, blood tests, a CT, and some meds, it was declared that my heart was fine, great, in fact. There was no sign of a heart attack, or heart disease, blockage, or heart damage of any kind. My lungs, another possible cause of chest pains, were also fine. So was my blood pressure. In the end, the pain was declared caused by stress.

Stresssssssssss

Stress is a killer, the doctors informed me. Stress can lead to heart attacks and strokes, I was told. It can affect your immune system, leading to other illnesses. It was the same song my GP had been singing to me for years. I needed to manage the stress in my life before it caused permanent damage. BTW, I already have vitiligo, an autoimmune disease that attacks pigmentation of the skin, which in my case is believed to be triggered by numerous bouts of stress-caused hives on my neck and throat.

For over fifteen years I've been juggling a full-time job, writing 2-3 novels a year, and many other responsibilities and concerns that go back even before then. The only responsibility I didn't have was a family. Year after year, the signs of stress were there: depression, binge eating, aches and pains. I managed them all as best I could and met every obligation. Come to think of it, I can barely remember a time in my life without a lot of stress.

Well that shit's over.

Generally, I have a great attitude about life, and it has helped me immensely in tough times. But now it needs a boost from these other things I can do to make the quality of my life better. I've always been a glass half full person. Now I need to be a glass FULL person.

In about 30 or so days, I will be turning in my last contracted manuscript. I won't be giving up writing, but I will be writing on my timeline, not a publisher's. That should help my stress level considerably, as well as not having to deal with the politics and BS of publishers, and working LONG-ASS HOURS for almost no money.  I will be commander of my own ship. I may do better. I may do worse. But no one will have control over my time and efforts but me.

The day job must continue, and in the past year they have given me more responsibilities. The job can be stressful, but I work for nice people who understand.  I can also lighten my load elsewhere so that what stress I have at my job can be managed better. And in under two years I will be retiring.

Learning to say NO. I love volunteering for good causes. And I will continue doing that, but on a smaller scale. I'm currently on the board of a writers group and enjoy it very much. But all other requests for my time are being turned away and some are being let go.

Taking better care of myself. In the past six months I've been neglecting my diet and exercise routine, saying I didn't have time. I've started that up again and I've declared war on binge eating and junk food. Exercise is one of the best stress reducers, but for me it's the first thing to get pushed aside. And one weekend a month I'm setting aside everything for a few hours and going hiking ... outside ... in the sunshine ... in fresh air. Something I used to do and haven't done for years. I even bought some hiking poles to help my fat ass. And I've booked a couple of real vacations.

Sleep is a wondrous thing. When I'm on book deadlines, I usually only get about five hours of sleep a night. Sometimes less. I'm now committed to seven a night minimum. It's amazing what that extra sleep has done for me already.

Readjusting my future goals. In May I was disappointed when I was turned down for financing for my RV van. I had pushed up my timeline to get the van because I'd gotten a great deal and thought maybe the van would help me de-stress. In all honesty, pushing up my deadline only added more stress. Being turned down last month helped me in the long run, like cosmic brakes. So now I'm looking to order the van in 2018, closer to my retirement date. In the meantime, I can downsize my belongings and acquire the things I need for my retirement at a slower pace.

Years ago my doctor offered me anti-depressants to manage my stress. He didn't push them, as some doctors do, but let me know that they were available if I wanted to go that route. I chose not to. I still choose not to go down that path. I believe I can handle this if I'm smart and committed to my own well-being.

We live in stressful times. Everything moves faster. People expect more of us. People are fired up in negative ways and acting out against their fellow human beings. I can't change the world, but I can change my little patch of it. I can be a better me.

As most of you know, I have an elderly cat named B. I adore that animal. I care for her best I can, giving her all the love and support she needs to have a quality life.  Maybe it's time I took care of myself as well as I do my cat.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Mai Tais

Yes, I'm well aware that a mai tai doesn't contain lemons, but let's say for the sake of argument, it does.

Late on the Friday afternoon before Memorial weekend  I did something big: I placed an order for a Winnebago Travato, my dream retirement RV. Then I spent Saturday and Sunday worrying about it, as I knew I would. This was the biggest purchase I have ever made. I've never bought a home or a fancy car. What if my financing doesn't go through? Although the dealer was pretty sure it would, it still gave me worry. I bought the RV much earlier than planned because I got a great deal for exactly what I wanted. And because I was obsessed with getting the thing. And I mean OBSESSED, like a serial killer.

The Tuesday after the long holiday, I got the news that my funding did not go through. It seems most of the reason was I didn't have a long enough credit history with large purchases. In fact, I had never made a large purchase, such as a home, in my life and had mostly paid cash in the last several years. My car is 10 years old and long paid for. I looked into other lenders, but wasn't happy with what I found.

What to do? What to do?

I was disappointed, of course. I really wanted that van! But after taking a LONG step back and reviewing the facts, I realized my timing was off. Way off.  I could have forced the funding issue by throwing down an even larger down payment or signing up with less than favorable terms, but decided not to do that. I'm not retiring for ... wait for it ... 587 days from today. I have plenty of time to purchase the van and get ready for my grand adventure. Maybe the funding turn down was the universe's way of saying, "Hold your horses, Sue Ann!"

So I put on my big girl panties and reset my buying timeline for mid-2018, less than a year before I retire.  Maybe then the financing gods will smile upon me.

Then I booked a week's vacation in Hawaii.

Now do you see where mai tais come in?

BTW, the Hawaii countdown is 138 days.


Monday, May 22, 2017

No One's Gonna Die

Recently I was working with one of my bosses and she was getting very frazzled over an event we were organizing (which is not like her). The poor thing was working herself into a tizzy over tiny, insignificant details. Finally, I said to her, "Calm down. No one is going to die if this isn't perfect."

She paused, then replied, "You're right. Our clients deal with life and death issues every day, and this is hardly life or death." (We work in health care law.)

The event went off just fine, BTW.

I had the occasion last week to tell someone else who was sweating bullets over tiny silly things, "No one is going to die." Like my boss, she paused, let the words sink in, then calmed down.

Sometimes we worry over stuff that, in the big scheme of things, are smaller than gnats, while letting big stuff slide. I'm sure psychologically this is a coping or even an avoidance mechanism, but I'm not writing this to delve into the human mind.

Yesterday I was telling a friend about two things that may stand in the way of ordering my RV next month. These aren't necessarily small things, but they are things out of my control. When I was done complaining, my friend threw my favorite new words back at me, "No one is going to die. This is just a delay, nothing more."

It's true.  These two things may mess with the timing of my goal to own a camping van, but will not be an obstacle to ultimately getting my hands on one. And the delay may only be six months, not years. Six months is nothing.  And I won't die because of it. I might die during those six months, who knows, but certainly not from waiting.

There are lots of things that can cause a person to die, such as illness or an accident, but I'm not going to die because something I want is put out of my reach for a few  months.  Even more stupid, is that it's not confirmed yet that this will even happen. I'm worrying over something that may not even occur.  Silly me!

This is why we should have contingency plans. Contingency plans are our safety nets, our emergency kits. When life throws obstacles in our path, especially something out of our control, we shouldn't waste energy worrying. Just dust off Plan B and have it in your pocket, like an understudy in a play or a touchstone that brings you comfort.

So I'm letting go of this worry. I'll know in a few weeks if my plans are delayed, but in the meantime, I've got my backup plan primed and ready.

And no one is gonna die!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Good Morning to Possibilities

I'm on a campaign to spread cheer, one person at a time. Especially during this time of discord and of people taking sides on everything.

I live in Los Angeles, a thriving, massive city, both in population and size. I work in a two-tower high rise. I come in contact with hundreds of people every day, some for a fleeting instant, some for longer. I've noticed that people in stores, or on the streets, or in elevators seldom look each other in the eye.

There was one man in our building on our floor, an older man probably in his seventies, who was always scowling. One day I mentioned to a co-worker how crabby the man always seemed, and was told that he is in constant pain from a serious back injury. I had no idea.

One day after that I was in the elevator alone with this man. I turned to him and said, "good morning" and gave him a smile. He gave me a tight smile back. After that, every time we saw each other I greeted him, or made a small talk comment about the weather, etc. Now every time he sees me, the scowl is gone, replaced by a smile, and often he'll even start the conversation.

We really never know what's going on in people's lives. Someone may seem like a crab apple, but really be in pain from an unseen injury. Or maybe a co-worker snapped at you or is in a bad mood because she had a fight that morning with her husband, or one of her kids, or maybe her mother is in the hospital. People shouldn't need to wave banners announcing their physical or emotion pain, for us not to judge them or to be civil to them.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone, but I'm trying to be better about it.

Every morning when I go out to the parking area where I live, there are people walking along the sidewalk in front of my apartment building. Some are exercising. Some are walking dogs. Some are simply moving from one place to another. I now make a point of meeting them eye to eye and saying good morning. A lot just nod in response and look away, some grunt, but many look at me, smile, and say it back. Over time, like the man in the elevator, they're smiling before we reach each other. And so far no one has pulled a knife or sworn at me.

Is it really that difficult to be civil to people? To get our heads out of our phones, or our asses, and acknowledge fellow travelers in this world?

Even if we're the ones in pain or having a bad day, sometimes greeting another human being can lift our spirits. People often feel isolated and alone, and a kind word letting them know you see them - really see them - and can change their attitude or yours.

There was a trend a short while ago where people in drive-thru lines would pay for the order or coffee of the people behind them. It was an unexpected and random act of kindness. I've done it myself. But how about being less stingy with our smiles and kind words. You don't have to become BFFs with these people, but when you see someone often, reach out and say hello. You might just make their day.  And it costs nothing.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Keep Your Shit To Yourselves

I was talking on the phone with a friend, catching up with him on what has been going on in our lives. He has a new lady friend. I have my future plans for my books and my retirement.

Then he laughed.

Okay.

Then he said, "You're always working the angles." He laughed again.

I wasn't laughing.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive, but to me someone "working the angles" is someone who isn't quite trustworthy.  So I looked it up and found a couple of meanings. One said it meant to be "manipulative". Okay, that fits my perceived definition. But others defined it as: "leaving no stone unturned" or "exploring all possibilities."

Now those are definitions I can embrace with gusto, and ones to which I'm going to attribute my friend's comment, because he really is behind my plans. He thinks they are great and suitable for my personality, which according to him is "stubborn and fiercely independent." I also think the adjective "pig-headed" was tossed in there somewhere.

Did I mention we used to date?

Any who... he was not putting me down by any means, but it did get me to thinking about people who do regularly pee all over other people's dreams and ideas.  There's always someone who sees the negative angles, sharp and pointy. Sometimes they tell you directly that your glass is only half full. Other times they tell a friend who passes the message along to you. That, by the way, is passive-aggressive behavior, in case you didn't recognize it.

Since making my plans to retire and travel, most of the support I've received has been extremely positive. Even many of the early naysayers have changed their opinions once they saw how dedicated I was to my plan and how thoughtfully I was approaching it.

But a lot of people are not "pig-headed" like me. If I want to do something, I will keep at it. Whether I fail or make headway on each attempt, I will continue to beat my head against the wall until I either break the wall or end up with a life-threatening concussion.  That's who I am.

A lot of people told me to my face that I could not do the Camp Pendleton Mud Run 8 years ago. But I did it. Nearly ruined my knees, but I freaking did it.

People told me I would never be published. Ahem, I am currently finishing my 25th novel.

People tell me I'll never lose weight. Well, I'm still working on that. I have not given up by a long shot.

But what about those dreamers who don't have a bite me attitude?

What about the dreamers who take to heart the negativity thrown at them, leaving dents in their confidence and goals?

Should they give up because they don't have the right stuff, the hard shell to ward off arrows of doubt?

No.

Not everyone is pigheaded and fiercely focused. But think about those in history who were and what they accomplished, even in the midst of naysayers: Steve Jobs, Sally Ride, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers, Madam Curie - just to name a few. I'm sure they all heard their share of boos and hisses and faced people who hated them. The difference is, they kept going. And going. And going. And we are the better for their tenacity and vision.

If you are someone with a dream, don't give it up in the face of all the orangutans throwing their feces at you. Just wipe it off and keep going.

If you are an orangutan throwing shit, STOP IT! Give the dreamers in your life your support and help them explore all the angles. You will be the better for it.  And if that is beyond your abilities, then just keep your negative shit to yourself, because no one has time for that!

This has been a public service announcement.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Bleak, I Tell You! Freaking Bleak!

In a meeting not too long ago someone referenced the novel Bleak House. The twenty-something seated next to me looked to me for an explanation. I discretely informed her it was a book by Charles Dickens.

She asked, with wide-eyed innocence and so everyone could hear, "Who's Charles Dickens?"

Excuse me while my head explodes...

I didn't expect her to get the Bleak House reference, but I at least expected her to know who Charles Dickens was?

Or was I expecting too much?

I was mildly comforted by the fact that the few others in the room, all above 40 years of age, stared at her in shock too.

She's a high school graduate and currently attending college. No, not an English major, but still...

This is CHARLES FREAKING DICKENS!

What in the hell are they teaching in schools these days?! I was exposed to Dickens and his work in high school and again in college. I still haven't read everything he's written, but I've read most of it.

I leaned toward her again. "You know ... Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist?"

Crickets.

"Great Expectations?"

Crickets.

"A Christmas Carol?"

A glimmer of light. "I know that one," she said, beaming. "Didn't they make a movie out of that?"

At least she didn't reference the Muppet version.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ring-a-Ding-Dong!

Not too long ago someone posted this video to my Facebook page. I was instantly charmed and have viewed it many many many times. So have most people on the internet.


 

Huh, I thought. I wonder if I could teach B to do that?

For those of you not in the know, B is my Norwegian Forest Cat. She is 18+ years old and has a touch of feline dementia.  So basically, I'm wondering if a 90 year old woman, who is a tad off kilter, can learn new tricks.

Game on!

Bell? What bell?
I started with 20 minutes of training a day with a bell just like the one in the video and her favorite treats. By the end of day 1 of B's training, she'd figured out that the ring of the bell meant a treat was coming, but she didn't make the connection between her and the bell, that it was on the floor in case she wanted to ring it.

Day two was pretty much the same. As soon as I rang the bell, she perked up, waiting for a treat to be dispensed. I even took her paw several times, rang the bell with it, and gave her a treat.  At the end of the 2nd day, she at least was sniffing around the bell once I stopped distributing the treats, but no paw made it to the bell unless I put it there.

This was going to be tougher than I expected.  But I was undeterred.

Day 3 was more of the same.

Don't need no stinkin' bell!
For three days I'd been holding the training sessions around 8 pm. On Day 4, B came up to me around 8 pm demanding a treat. There was no bell prompting her. She just knew it was time for her treats. I was in the middle of dinner and not ready to do our training. Didn't matter to her. She was not to be deterred. It was 8 pm. Treat time. She climbed up on the arm of the sofa and started aggressively going after the treat canister. Seems I'd trained her well. At least to tell time.

The next few days it was more of the same. B demanded treats at 8 pm. I rang the bell and gave her one. I picked up her paw, rang the bell, and gave her one. Over and over and over. Not once did she make the connection that she needed to be the one ringing the bell. And why should she? She had me well trained to do it for her.

I left the bell out on the floor 24/7 over the weekend, hoping she'd have a kitty epiphany. I kept the treat can handy so if she did ring the bell at an odd hour, I'd be ready to reward her.

Nothing, except that she laid next to it and took a nap.

So what has this taught me?

1) I'm trainable.
2) My cat is smarter than I am.
3) Einstein was right.






Monday, April 10, 2017

A Year Into My Journey

Sometimes a journey begins long before you actually start down the road.

On April 13, 2016, I knew for sure that I wanted to travel extensively after retirement. I'd been considering several retirement options, but wanted to travel before settling down in one spot. But as my list of things I wanted to see and places I wanted to visit grew, I was slapped by the realization that I probably couldn't afford to do all the travelling I wanted and still put a roof over my head.

By April 22nd, I'd made the mental leap from simply gassing up the car and hitting the road to buying an RV and living in it while I did all this travelling. From there, there was no turning back. I knew it was the right decision for me.

I began researching the possibility.  With each article and blog I read and You Tube video I watched on the lifestyle, with both the joys and the ups and downs, the freedom, and physical responsibilities of maintaining a home on wheels, I became even more convinced that this was where I belonged.

The open road beckoned to me. The freedom of setting up camp wherever I desired, for as along as I desired, was appealing to me more and more.

First, I did the math. I was 63 at the time and needed to hit 65 in order to get my Medicare. That was a year and a half away. Next was the decision of whether I should retire at 65 or wait until 66, when I was eligible for more Social Security. That increased my departure by another year. I crunched more numbers.

My practical side said to wait that additional year. My growing wanderlust was pushing me to go sooner than later, while I was healthy and excited.

What's a gal with itchy feet to do?

I had a sit down with my financial adviser and determined that it would be best financially to wait until I hit 66 to retire.

I wasn't happy about this delay, but it was just a delay, not a deletion of the dream itself. Trust me, whining was involved. That's whine, not wine. Soon that whine changed to happiness as I realized the extra time would buy me more security and time to plan more thoroughly.

It was a bitter pill, but one I needed to take.

I may have changed my departure date, but not my van buying date. I intend to buy it by the end of 2017, and spend a lot of time camping around California and Arizona as I wait for my retirement date. With the van at my disposal, I figure the waiting won't be so difficult.

Wow. Already an entire year has gone by since I started making plans.

Whoosh! Just like that!

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Excuse Me While I Mansplain

As much as I like Facebook, I get really tired of all of the "mansplaining" that goes on.

Mansplaining, for the very few of you who don't know, is when someone (usually a man) explains something to someone (usually a woman) in a condescending or patronizing manner.

Except that a lot of women do it also, to both men and women, but I usually find mostly to other women. It's equal opportunity rude behavior.  I've been guilty of it myself.

Here's the thing... when someone posts something to their personal Facebook page, maybe we should all take a step back and read what they've posted. Really. Read. And comprehend. Before making a knee jerk comment. And it doesn't hurt to read the comments before yours either.

Did this person ask for your advice?

Did this person appear lost or confused about the topic they're posting about?

If not, if it was just a comment or observation they shared, maybe we should keep our comments to just comments and not force a teachable moment. Not that all information given is mansplaining. It's not. Mansplaining is about attitude. When someone mansplains, you can almost hear the deep inpatient sighs through the words they write. You can feel the eye rolling going on without seeing their face.

Even worse is when someone posts a mansplaining comment when the original poster clearly shows their understanding of the topic. Obviously the mansplainer did not fully read and understand the original post. This happens to me often on Facebook. I have even, on occasion out of frustration, told comment posters to please RE-READ my original post and see that there is no need to educate me on the topic. Sheesh!

I believe that the problem behind all the runaway mansplaining is communication, or lack of it. For years men have been mansplaining to women and women have complained that the men never really listened to what they were saying.  Now both genders aren't listening (or reading) and spreading their unwanted advice like thick morning scum on teeth.  Instead of listening to others, we tend to think first about how we can respond, so the true meaning of their post gets lost in our self-absorbed thoughts. This is how inappropriate comments start, and sometimes those loosey-goosey comments can even hurt. Don't think about yourself first, think about what that person is saying.

Not too long ago, I had a woman post several pieces of information to one of my threads, even after I told her there was no need. The topic of my post wasn't even what she was commenting about. She couldn't help herself. She had to show that she was the smartest kid in the class. Instead, she came off as overbearing and rude, even though I know she meant well. She never bothered to read the post fully or any of the comments. She pushed ahead, hell-bent on delivering her message, even though no one needed or wanted to hear it.

And please don't get me started on all the political mansplaining going on! I've unfriended people for that.

If you still feel the need to give advice, think about the tone in which you're saying it before you hit that send button. Sometimes it's difficult to strike the right tone with just written words, but all the more reason to be careful. I have gotten tons of great tips from people on Facebook. But only if they are presented with the right attitude. If it comes off as mansplaining, I won't give it the time of day, even if it is valuable information. It's my inner child sticking out my tongue.

Like I said, I've been guilty of this myself, and now try to think before I type and send. Hopefully, I'm getting better at it.

Now, did I mansplain mansplaining clearly?

Monday, March 27, 2017

I See Plots, Plots Everywhere

Recently I rode up in the elevator in my office building with a middle-aged man who paced the small confined space like a restless lion. It was rather disconcerting, but I couldn't help but wonder: a) was he late for a meeting; b) did he need to pee; c) was he a serial killer trying to suppress his natural urges?

These are the ideas that raced through my head as we traveled up to the 17th floor, where I got off. Who knows what he did when he got to his floor, but since there were no signs of police or a building lock down, I think it's safe to assume that his problem was either a or b.

A day or two later, the Fed Ex delivery man asked if I would use my pass to let him onto our main floor from the 17th. Our main floor is locked off to the public due to an unbalanced ex-employee a few years back. And so is the portion we occupy on the 17th floor, where my office is located. I happily obliged. As the Fed Ex man headed down to the 16th floor, I noted he was holding a very long narrow Amazon box. Immediately, I wondered if it contained a rifle, and if was he going to assassinate someone in our office. It did not and he did not.

Such is the mind of a murder mystery author.

I hear a lot of writers, usually newbies, say they don't have any ideas for new stories or books circling in their brain. They have no idea what they're going to write next. To that I say: Then you're not paying attention.

Plot ideas undulate around us every minute, surging and withdrawing like ocean waves or currents of the very air we breathe. Sometimes they are gentle. Sometimes not so much. But they are always there, waiting to be discovered and fleshed out into short stories, novellas, novels, screen plays and poems.  And maybe they aren't the entire idea, but one for a single chapter or scene. Twice I've gotten ideas from billboards. Once from a sandwich. Another time from a tiny article I read in a magazine. Often these ideas come when you least expect them. Some even come while we sleep.

It's all grist for the mill.

Not too long ago a member of a FB group I belong to about RVing posted this photo. Immediately, an idea hit me for a series - yes, an entire series of stories.  And they have nothing to do with that sharp looking RV in the pic.

That's how inspiration works when you're paying attention. Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to work on this new idea, but I did not dismiss it. Instead, I shelved both the photo and idea for later. In time, they will find their way into my writing schedule. Of that I'm sure.

If you are having trouble coming up with plots, scenes, or ideas, I recommend: 1) relax your brain so that it's supple, not clogged or locked tight; 2) don't look too hard, let the ideas come to you; 3) be observant to everything around you, even the small stuff. Then get ready to pluck the ideas out of the air, like ripe fruit from a tree.

A writer without ideas is a vase without flowers. A gun without bullets;  A dog without a bone.

A writer without ideas ... is just a typist.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dream Made Me Do It

I believe in dreams. And I dream often. More importantly, I remember a lot of my dreams in detail. Sometimes, depending on the dream, that can be a mixed blessing.

Shortly after starting to think about full-time RVing when I retired, but before I'd actually made the decision to go for it, I had a dream that changed everything.

In the dream I was in front of my laptop, fingers flying over the keyboard as I penned another book. The odd thing was, I was not at my desk in my apartment, where I usually write. No. I was in an RV, seated at a small table, my entire tiny living space within view. I still remember this dream as clearly as I remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Maybe even more clearly.

In the dream, I turned away from my laptop and looked out the door of the RV. It was open, only a thin screen door separating me from the outdoors. A soft but steady rain was beating on the roof. Through the screen I had a lovely view of trees. I was in a campground in the middle of the woods. There were no other vehicles or people around. Just me and nature. Peaceful and gentle. I took a deep, contented breath, filling my lungs with the smell of clean damp foliage. After a few seconds of contemplation, I went back to my writing.

What stirred and stuck with me most about that dream was my mental and emotional state. As I wrote, surrounded by natural beauty and the quiet comfort of the rain, I had this incredible sense of peace and happiness. Like I'd been journeying toward this all my life and had finally arrived at my destination.

I'm not an unhappy person by nature. I've had my ups and downs, bouts of depression and frustration, but overall I'm generally comfortable in my skin and my surroundings, even when others have found me odd or obnoxious. But this dream was different. This was a peace that flooded through me like gentle water in a stream. A sense of home and belonging I'd not felt before.

Happiness.

Contentment.

Simple things, but not that simple to achieve. Most people spend their lives in frantic pursuit of both, and here I was with a front row view of what would do it for me.

How could I ignore this sign, this vision?

I knew from that point on that I belonged in an RV out in nature. Not lined up in a parking lot of crowded RV parks with neighbors a few feet away. I'd lived most of my life that way in apartment buildings and knew for sure I didn't want to finish my life that way. Before the end of my life, I would take leave of my hamster wheel and never return to it.

This dream also helped shape my choice of an RV.  I've done a great deal of research on RVs and was sure in the beginning that I wanted a small class C RV. But the minute I checked out camper vans, crawling all around several different brands, I knew that a larger RV was not for me. The camper van was what I was enjoying in my dream. Once I saw the Winnebago Travato 59K online, I knew I'd found my home, and that feeling only intensified after I saw one in person and test drove it.

Now fast forward nearly a year. 

This morning just before waking, I had a series of dreams in which I was still working at my day job as a paralegal, but on Friday nights I would rush home, not to my apartment, but to Novella, my dream camper van. I would unplug her from the electricity in the RV park where we lived, and hit the road for the weekend. Sometimes we'd end up at the beach; sometimes in the woods; sometimes we'd meet up with RVing friends; sometimes we were alone. But every weekend was a joy. And every morning, wherever we found ourselves, I'd be happily writing. Sometimes I'd be writing outside. Sometimes I'd be writing while inside, looking out the screen door at the beauty of my surroundings.

I'm counting down until these dreams become a reality. Hopefully by the end of this year.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Love On The Road?

A man I don't know PM'd me on Facebook saying he wanted to make me happy and all my dreams come true. I get messages like this often. So do a lot of women on Facebook. They are usually from middle-aged men, nicely dressed in their photos, or wearing military garb. A boat, fast car, mansion, or macho feats are usually posted on their FB page. Good catches? No. They are almost always phishing profiles: profiles set up to try and hack you once you accept their messages and friendship requests. I delete them all. I don't even ask questions first. Boom! They're history!

Some who follow my posts, and even some who know me well, might say I'm cynical about love.

In some respects that's true. I do not believe in the Happily Ever After Fairy Tale. Especially at my age. But I do believe in love and I do believe that if it's meant to be, even in my senior years, it will happen.

I've been proposed to a few times and even accepted one. It was a man I'd known a long time. We had dated when I was in my twenties and reconnected when I was forty. It seemed like one of those fairy tales when lost loves reunite. What it was, was a nightmare.  I accepted his proposal and, with love's blinding stars in my eyes, moved in with him. He turned out to be emotionally unstable and verbally abusive and, the longer I was with him, I discovered also a major liar and cheat.  He was also bi-polar, but had no intention to get help for it. And sadly, he was brilliant.

The thing is, none of this came out when we dated years before. Oh, I'd noticed that he was impatient at times with people and often hit extreme highs and lows, but nothing like years later. And he'd never turned any of that on me. I think age exacerbated it. Plus, when we dated before, I didn't live with him.  I hung around a much more conservative crowd then, and a lot of them thought I shouldn't move in with him before being married. I'm glad I didn't listen to them. If I had, I would have married him, then been stuck or shortly after divorced. We lived together about 8 months. By the time I left, I was worried that the verbal abuse would eventually lead to physical, as it so often does.

I've dated since then, and some of my boyfriends have been lovely people, and some have remained friends. But I haven't fallen in love. I've loved some of the men I've dated since him, but I've never been in love with them. Maybe my bad experience is still in the way. Maybe not. I do know that I never felt so lonely as when I was with my ex-fiance. I had someone, yet felt empty and in pain almost all the time. In my life now, I never feel lonely, yet I'm alone.

Alone does not equal lonely.

Recently a friend of mine was widowed and shortly after his wife's death met a nice woman and fell in love. The quickness of it took him by surprise. He called me to tell me about it and wanted me to meet her.  His wife had been sick for a long time. They'd had a very happy marriage and he wanted more of the same.  I met his new lady friend this weekend. I think he just might be a two time winner. I'm so happy for both of them.

During our telephone conversation my friend suggested that maybe I'd find my soul mate out on the open road when I'm RV'ing.  I know some women who have, but that's not what I'm looking for when I retire.

Although... I might be happy with a solid and fun companion ... with his own rig. Maybe once in a while we could park next to each other for a few days.  I think that could have real possibilities. And if I need more space, I can simply drive away. Him, too. No muss, no fuss... no strings.

I could live with that, but even then he'd have to be someone mighty special, interesting, and active.

No, I'm not cynical about love. I'm just realistic.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Reincarnating My Belongings

I'm starting to clean out my closets and cupboards as I start to downsize my belongings for retirement. Some closets are patiently waiting their turn. Others are demanding attention now.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who keeps all of the plastic containers that come with various food products. The problem is, they are starting to take over my life. Last week I opened the cupboard where I keep my plastic ware simply to grab a small container for some leftovers. I was immediately engulfed in an avalanche of  the stuff.

Okay, you got my attention. You go to the top of the cupboard clean out list.

So now, spread across my very long kitchen counter, are various sizes and shapes of plastic containers and lids. There's some Tupperware there. And some Glad and Rubbermaid containers. Most though are from my Earth Balance vegan butter and take out places. I'm sorting them by type and matching them with their lids. No lid? Outta here! Those turned away get tossed in the recycle bin. And there are many with missing lids and lids without containers.  It's kind of like socks missing in the washer. Where did they go?

Something tells me the recycling bin is going to be eating a lot of plastic this next week.

After this, I'm tackling my dresser drawers. I have two good size chests. The beauty is, I can take a drawer at a time into the living room and sort in front of the TV. I also know how much room I have in the van, so I know I'll have to cut deeply into the piles of socks, scarves, jammies, and tee shirts. My goal is to cull the dresser items from 10 drawers down to 2-3. I'm shooting for two.

When all is said and done, my clothing should fit into one suitcase with a few hanging items. That's it. And, honestly, isn't that all we really need?

In the next few weeks I'm also going to start selling off a lot of stuff. You'll see it on Amazon Marketplace and possibly Craig's List. Every item sold goes toward an item for the van. My crystal stemware will be reborn as new bed linens. My collectibles be will reincarnated as hoses and electrical adapters. My records (yes, I still have vinyl) might garner enough to purchase new cookware, and if not, one of the other sold items will help. I shouldn't have to spend any new money to outfit the van. My current things will be transformed into new things with new purposes.

I already have stacks of bags and boxes in my dining area filled with clothing and miscellaneous items for Good Will. And those will grow in the next few months before being hauled away.

Even B will have to downsize her toys and duplicate scratch boxes. She gets to bring her water and food bowls, bed, carrier, one scratch box, and a couple of toys. She'll live.

An RV is the perfect plan for your getting stuff organized. There's no room for spillage. To be livable, you can't over stuff it and force the zipper closed as with luggage.

I wish I'd done this years ago!

It really is liberating!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Call Me Retirement Ninja!

Last week I was thinking about when I did the Camp Pendleton Mud Run.   That was June 2009, eight years ago.  For as long as I live, setting that goal and making it happen will remain one of my proudest moments. (You can read about it here.)

But now I'm wondering, where did that woman go? The woman who tackled such a large physical undertaking while ignoring naysayers and critics, and some who openly laughed out loud at her quest. That woman trained by walking three miles almost every day, and six miles on Saturday and Sunday. That woman went to Will Rogers National Park and other trails around Los Angeles to get in needed hill training. And she still managed to crank out books and work a full-time job!

Where the hell did she go?

At the time I did the mud run, I was 55 years old and weighed 40 lbs less than I do now. I had dark hair. My personal life, however, was in the toilet, and I was battling depression. I still worked at the same place and lived in the same apartment. B and Raffi were my loving companions.

My life is more hectic now, but also much more stable in many respects. I still enjoy my job as a paralegal. I still write books, and in fact have written much more since then. Back when I did the mud run, I had only four books under my belt and one published short story. Now I have twenty-two books with several short stories thrown into the mix. Instead of my legs getting a workout, my fingers have been clicking off the miles. And I'm down to just one cat and don't have much of an issue with depression. I had turned in my sneakers for a keyboard. And it's all good.

Can these two sides merge?



Don't get me wrong, I'm still exercising almost every day, just not with the same gusto and determination. Truthfully, more like with no gusto and determination. And my knees are eight years older and not as strong. But who says it has to stay that way? Per my doctor's request, instead of walking miles and miles, I ride an exercise bike to keep my knees lubricated and strong. It works, but I do it grudgingly, not with the same focus I had years ago. My attitude toward exercise is more like a kid forced to eat broccoli or he'll get no TV.

I'd like to fuse Sue Ann, the mud run ninja, with Sue Ann, the writing ninja. Can you imagine what the two of them could accomplish? It boggles the mind. They could become one, super human, almost-to-retirement, ninja!  Because there is a lot I want to accomplish before I hit the road as The Novel RV, both physically and in my writing.

So, starting today, I'm becoming Retirement Ninja! A woman possessed with cleaning out her apartment, buying an RV, re-focuing her writing career, and getting in shape.

It's a tall order, but I'm confident Retirement Ninja can do it!

Right after a nap.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Making A List, Checking It Twice

Recently several people have approached me about my plan to travel extensively in an RV when I retire. It seems they'd like to do it too. Some want to live full time in an RV, while others dream of traveling big chunks of time throughout the year. All want to pick my brain about my plans and preparation. So I decided to put this post together and share what I've learned so far.

Being prepared is not just a scouting motto. It's sound advice for anyone planning a journey, but even more so if that journey is travelling extensively in an RV. While I am still bound to my day job and my apartment, I have not been idle on this matter. Since making that decision, I have set off to learn as much about it BEFORE the actual journey. If there was one message I've heard over and over from other RVers it has been BE PREPARED. It seems many folks who fail at full-time RVing are those less prepared for the lifestyle.


Don't count the days until you leave on your trip,
make those days count.

Whether you already own your RV or not, use your time before your journey begins wisely. Techomadia has a great video on the Sucky Sides of RVing. I highly recommend it. But that's just the beginning. There are tons of videos on You Tube about RV life.

Join Facebook groups dedicated to RVing, especially groups focused on the model rig you have or want to buy. If you're not sure which rig you'd like, join several groups dedicated to the few you're interested in. This is a great way to learn the pros and cons of a particular brand and model. Once I narrowed my RV choice down to a Winnebago Travato, I joined a group dedicated to that particular RV. Honestly, I have learned more in that group than anywhere else. I've learned about the electrical and plumbing systems of the Travato, along with how to make minor repairs. I've learned about modifications I could make to the coach that would make my life easier and more convenient, and what equipment and everyday items would be helpful. I've even picked up tips on how to negotiate for and buy an RV. And I've met a lot of new wonderful friends. Basically, I am a sponge, soaking up all the information they dish out.

Make a checklist of everything you will need to buy or do before your trip, along with columns for Action Items, Comments, and Status. Once you start that checklist, you will be shocked at how much you need to do BEFORE the trip begins. I'm not talking about equipment you need to buy, although that's on the list too, but steps you need to make in all areas of your life to be prepared. Then I divided my checklist into subheadings such as Social Media, Domicile, Personal, Techy and RV Equipment, and RV Household Items.


Social Media - Since I'll be operating my writing career from the road, I decided to give myself a new brand that tied in with travel. Thus, the Novel RV was born. This included things like buy the domain name, set up a web site, have a logo made, set up blog, a You Tube channel, etc. All of which are currently in progress, although I do have my new logo already!

Domicile - If you are going to full time in your RV, are you going to change your domicile state? There are some very good advantages to doing this, especially if you currently reside in a very high tax state, as I do. In this category I listed reminders to research state residency requirements and mailing services that will let you use their address for your new address, While you can research the best residency choices before you leave, much of the foot work for this is done after you are on the road as it requires a trip to your new state. This includes setting up a new address, registering your vehicle, getting a new drivers license, and registering to vote. If you are not getting rid of your brick and mortar residence when you hit the road, this step isn't necessary.

Personal - Some of these items tie in with Domicile, such as vehicle insurance, health insurance, and possibly making a new will. Make sure you check out health insurance options in your new state for flexible options that fit your new lifestyle. Also included in this category are items you might not think about prior to the trip, but which are important. Is your passport up-to-date? Is your dental work current? One of the things I did recently was have a lot of dental work done that was not urgent but would be needed eventually. Better to get it done while I have dental insurance through my job. How about your eyeglasses? Is your exam and prescription up-to-date? And make sure you have an extra pair to take with you. Also make sure you have a good supply of any medications you need and research where to get refills while on the road before you actually hit the road. And if you have a pet, don't forget to research vet services/insurance.

Techy Equipment - do you need a new computer before your trip? A WiFi booster? Cell phone charger? How will you handle getting online in remote areas? Should you change your cell phone carrier? Will you need an invertor for charging your laptop and for using appliances? Technomadia has a lot of videos and articles on this. Also check out Technomadia's RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.

RV Equipment - On this list should be your water hoses, one for drinking water and one for general use. A surge protector, water filter, and water regulator. Should you get portable solar panels? A sewer hose attachment to make dumping easier? Leveling blocks? And don't forget to add a tool kit, including a box of rubber gloves for dumping and black tank additives/tablets. (See, necessary details that could be easy to overlook.)

RV Household Items - Some of your home stuff can go with you, but most of it cannot. I'll be needing new lightweight dishes, unbreakable glassware, and easy-to-store cookware, some of which I have already collected or been given as gifts. Are you taking sheets to fit your RV's beds or a sleeping bag? Your existing towels or quick dry microfiber towels? Trading out your mixing bowls for collapsible ones? FYI - This should be your longest list. Go through your current kitchen and bathroom and take a good long look at your stuff and decide what can go and what should be replaced with smaller, more compact items. You have a lot less storage on an RV.

Personal Items - Are you completely dismantling your current home, or keeping it while you travel? This is important. If you are keeping your brick and mortar home, then you many have a place to store belongings not in use in the RV. If not, you will need to decide if you will put your extra stuff in a storage unit or par it down until all you own is the stuff in your RV. I've met several people who put their belongings in storage and leased out their home during their travels. I also came across people who gave up their home and stored their extra stuff, then regretted it since they seldom returned to it. Remember, it's just STUFF.

There is also preparation for personal items. I'm scanning all photos I want to keep and storing them on my computer and offline storage. I'm also scanning all my personal papers, contracts, will, etc. The only hard copies I intend to have with me are RV related papers and my passport. Also, put together a packet of your most important original documents, such as your will, RV sales documents, etc. and give them to a trusted family member or friend to hold for you. You could also put them in a safe deposit box, but again, that's more storage.

The RV - this is the final category on my checklist. If you have not decided on exactly what model you want, here is a good place to list the pros and cons of the models you are considering. If you already know what you want, this is the place to list the dealers you've contacted and your honest opinion of your treatment and their knowledge. And be honest. After all, you are spending a lot of money and this is the most important item on this list. Did the dealer seem knowledgeable about the unit you want? Were they customer oriented? Were they willing to negotiate? Check out their reviews online. Ask other RVers who have the same model where they bought theirs and if they were satisfied with the transaction and subsequent service.

At first glance, a checklist might seem like overkill, but trust me, once you start checking things off and the closer you get to your journey, the happier you will be that you made a list. Also, several items on the list can take several months to complete, so it's nice to monitor your progress.

You wouldn't start a hike without proper shoes, safety aids, and water. And isn't this much bigger than that?

I may not be on the open road full time for a while yet, but I've got stuff to do in the meantime!

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's A Good Thing You're Cute!

I woke up with murder on my mind. That's not unusual since I write murder mysteries and do most of my writing in the morning. But this morning B, my 18 year old Norwegian Forest Cat, was in my sights. 

Several times in the night B woke me up wanting cuddles. Or maybe it was food. Either way, the first time was around 11 pm, not long after I shut the book I was reading and called it a night. From there it was almost every couple of hours with her most insistent demands occurring around 3:30 am.

This is not the first time this had happened, but it was definitely her most demanding. It started with nudging against my arm, then against my hand, with her nose. Then the nudging became more insistent with her wedging her entire head under my hand and tossing it upward. Of course, I was semi-awake at this point. Sometimes I accommodate her demands with a few head scratches and pats, then roll over and go back to sleep. I did this twice last night, but at 3:30 am I waited to see how far she'd go if I didn't respond. She finally resorted to a series of head butts against my shoulder. Really annoyed at this, I rolled over and went back to sleep without petting her. She's even been known to gently nibble my elbow or fingers when I ignore her.

I managed another hour's sleep, but around 4:30 am the meowing began, soft and gentle at first, then it swelled to deep guttural pleas. B's normal meow is a soft, almost inaudible squeak, common in the breed. But she now has feline dementia. Yes, that's a thing and the vet confirmed it. I first noticed it early last year when as soon as the lights were out for the night she'd start that guttural meowing somewhere in the apartment. I'd get out of bed and investigate, sure she was hurt. Instead I'd find her in the middle of the living room. Sometimes she'd be playing with some of her toys, sometimes she'd be wide-eyed with fear and confusion, just like a person with dementia.

Some nights when I'm super tired, I'm proactive. Instead of going to bed and waiting to see if she'll begin her nocturnal cries, I'll pick B up and carry her into the bedroom when I go to bed. Most nights though, she's fine. Other nights when she begins crying, I just call her name and she follows my voice into the bedroom and all is good. Sometimes, for no reason at all, she'll start that deep demonic meowing when I'm still up. It never lasts long and I can usually diffuse it with a few words of comfort.


In other respects, B is pretty healthy for an old gal. She'd be about 90 if she were human. She's missing teeth and I have to watch her blood pressure, but that's about it. I also have to keep an eye on her eating patterns, as the kitty dementia can sometimes cause her to lose her appetite or forget to eat.

As most of you know, I'm planning on travelling in an RV when I retire in a few years. At her age, B probably won't be around when that happens, but if she is alive, she's definitely becoming a van cat. Annoying or not, there will be no cat left behind. I've had her for 15 years now and she's going nowhere without me. And vice versa. 

We'll be a couple of fluffy old ladies wandering aimlessly in our golden years

I just hope one of us remembers where we're going.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Camping? Don't Look At Me!

I have a confession. I am not a camper. My idea of camping is a hotel without room service. And I'm about as outdoorsy as chintz curtains.

When I said this recently to my friend Barbara over lunch, she looked at me with surprise, and more than just a bit of curiosity. You see, Barbara and I bonded over our mutual love and admiration of an RV, specifically the Winnebago Travato.  Barbara bought hers just a few months ago and I hope to purchase mine within the year. She bought hers so that she and her dogs could camp in more comfort than a tent. I want mine to travel the country when I retire.  Different uses for the same vehicle.

I guess it does seem odd that I'm not a camper, yet want to travel extensively in an RV, especially to our country's beautiful national parks. But you see, the Travato is small and self-contained with a kitchen, bedroom, toilet and shower. All the comforts of home, but on wheels.

The last time I went camping, real camping as in sleeping on the ground in a tent, I was in college. I did it twice and swore never again. It wasn't the discomfort that turned me away, or the cooking on an open fire. Honestly, it was the bathroom issue. Squatting in the dirt, using a smelly port-a-potty, or standing in line at a crowded campground restroom, just isn't my thing. Never has been, never will be. And then there's the bugs. I'm sure I'll get bugs in my rig, but hopefully not crawling into my bedding while I sleep, or try to sleep.

It doesn't help either that I just finished reading Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr. It's the story of four urban backpackers who go on the camping trip from hell.  Great read and I highly recommend it, but pretty scary stuff.

But I do love nature and being out in it. Fresh air. Big trees. Peace and quiet, except for the nattering of squirrels, chirps of birds, and the babbling of brooks. Sign me up! Over the years, I have often rented a cabin or stayed at a lodge in the mountains or at a place by the beach. I'm not much for vacationing in big cities. And I've taken enough cruises to be bored with them. Nor do I want to spend my time holed up in crowded RV parks and resorts. I'm sure I'll spend some of my time in those places when I'm on the road, but not the majority of my time.

Dumping my first black tank.
I guess that makes me more of a glamper than a camper. Although I hardly think dumping RV sewer tanks is glamorous. It's not difficult, and I had to do it when I rented an RV last year, but glamorous, no. And there's no room service in a national park or out in the middle of nowhere. Or Uber Eats. Or even local pizza or Thai delivery.

It is fun though, planning and getting ready for my next big adventure. I realize I'll have to be more of a handyman than just calling the apartment manager and hoping he'll fix the leaking faucet. I'll have to do those things myself and, like dumping my first black tank, it will be something new to learn and know I can learn it.

I have this long list of things I will need when I hit the road. On it are the usual RV things like a drinking water hose, sewer hose attachments, water regulators and filters, lanterns, and a propane grill and stove for outdoor cooking. (Yes, I do intend to cook outside a good part of the time, even though my rig will have a nice galley.) I've already started collecting some of these items, and friends and family provided quite a few on my last birthday and Christmas. There's even bear spray on my list.

Yes, bear spray...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This Senior Moment is Sponsored By ... FitBit

Last night I had a moment of panic. I couldn't find my car in the parking garage at work.

I usually park on the 6th floor of the 7 level garage, but when I left work around 7:15 pm last night I could not find my car!

It can't be stolen, I thought.

1) We have a security garage and you need a monthly parking card or ticket to get a car out. True, there was a murder in the garage several years back, but car theft, no.

2) I work in a fancy pants area spitting distance from Beverly Hills. There are WAY BETTER cars to steal in that garage than my 10 year old Ford Focus. Daily my old, dependable, and paid off car keeps company with Porches, Benzes, Jags, and Lexuses. I've even spotted the odd Rolls Royce. Unless a thief was looking for spare parts, I doubt my compact car, with its side-by-side Bernie and Hillary bumper stickers, would catch their eye.

I walked the entire floor area of the 6th floor, not just the area where I usually park, telling myself not to panic. It had to be somewhere. I even took the elevator down to the 4th floor to look. For years I parked on the 4th floor. I only changed to the 6th because since I come in later than most people, it was easier to find open spots there after the recent reconfiguration of all the spaces on all floors. 

4th Floor - no car. I even aimed my fob at another white Focus, but it didn't flash hello back.

The thing is, I always park on the same floor just to AVOID forgetting where I parked. And after 7:00 at night there aren't that many cars left in the huge garage.

Panic started to well. I really can't afford the hassle of a stolen car right now. Been there, done that. Not to mention all the junk in the car that I really didn't want to lose and/or replace.

I took the elevator back to the 6th floor and started walking around again. Still no car. Then I started walking down the circular ramp to the 5th floor and started canvassing that floor. Still no car.

Anxiety was growing in my chest like a runaway weed. I might just have to go to the parking garage office and confess that I was a dumb ass old woman who'd lost my car. Then they would put me on a golf cart and drive me around each floor looking for my misplaced vehicle. While the ride sounded nice, I wasn't ready to face that humiliation.  Trust me, I've seen them do it before for people in my situation.

Taking a deep breath, I started down the last row of the 5th floor heading for the 4th, determined not to end up in a golf cart. I'd walk every damn floor first.

WAIT! Is that it?

Geez, I'd passed right by my own car at least once already. It was parked between two dark SUVs on the far side of the 5th floor. Its compact presence hidden by the two larger vehicles like a white egg tucked protectively between the feet of a papa penguin. In spite of the bumper stickers, just to be sure, I aimed my fob at it. Yep. The lights flashed a cheery hello. It was my baby!

The 5th floor?! I never park on the 5th floor. Why did I park on the 5th floor? Obviously I'd lost my mind that morning and it hadn't improved throughout the day.

But my FitBit was happy. According to it, I'd walked nearly a full mile in the garage.

A dotty senior citizen wandering in a concrete desert. 

But at least I didn't have to ride the golf cart.