Boiling brownies and other hazards of life at sea level.

I’ve been living on the coast of Maine for 10 days now, and I’m utterly useless at functioning at sea level.

First, I can’t bake at 20 feet altitude. In the ten years that I’ve lived in the mountain west, I’ve redone all my recipes for altitudes of about 4700 feet.

Here’s my fantastic, greatest brownies at sea level:

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Yes, the butter is boiling. And they are “done.”

My daughter’s 8-year-old friend, born and bred in Maine, peered at the pan as I pulled it out of the oven and said innocently, “Why don’t you just make regular brownies?”

Thought I did, sweety.

My brain doesn’t know how to function this close to the ocean. Like a dull blanket tossed over my head, I’m heavy-brained and slow. It’s not the scenery, which is beautiful. In fact, it looks a great deal like my favorite place on earth: Yellowstone.

The photos above are from West Quoddy, Maine. (Which is actually east?)

But Yellowstone is about 8,000 feet above sea level. I’m a genius in Yellowstone! If I could live there for three months, I could solve every major world problem AND write the greatest American novel. I can THINK there!

But in Maine, I stare at the fridge trying to understand where the milk went until a child (a child under 10, mind you) points out that the gallons are in the door.

Heaven help me.

There have been studies that show people who move to high elevations, like Denver or Salt Lake City, often struggle. Lab rats demonstrate hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, which leads to depression.

I think a reverse happens for me, that my mind can’t handle this thick oxygen so it slogs aimlessly, trying to understand Maine.

For example, they make hot dogs this bright red . . . on purpose.Image result for maine red hot dog

I checked the label, and there’s not one but two red food dyes, so this is intentional. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I can’t grasp it.

Another example: there are no screens in the windows in this house (or in most houses—yes, I’ve been peering at other people’s windows; I’m already getting a reputation around here). Insects here are very determined. Three evenings ago, I cracked opened a window in bathroom to vent it (no exhaust fan, which may have gone the route of the screens) and found in the morning a massive gathering of moths and bugs hovering around the bathroom light, plotting their new government.

In the mornings, I come at them with paper towels to reduce the invasion force before my kids see them massing and panic.

Tonight I’m sure they’ll have a caucus about how to combat the Evil Hand of Wiping that reduces their forces every morning.

Wait—maybe tonight I’ll remember to close that crack in the window before I go to bed.

Took me three days to realize that may be a viable solution.

I can’t function at sea level.

We’ve been blessed to have friends who tell us each day how life is like in Maine (see, Kim Smith? I mentioned you and Mike) and have kindly said, “Um, but this is how it is in Maine. You have to adjust.”

It’s not like it’s bad; it’s just not what I expect. For example, these flowers, lupines, grow everywhere wild in fantastic displays. I can’t fathom that. There are also very few dandelions. The lupines have eaten them. Brilliant.

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There are wild Labradors in the waters of Maine. Or maybe this was someone’s pet, I’m not sure.

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I’m not sure of anything here.

The town doesn’t pick up trash, but Tony will, once a week, if you call him. He pulls up on Thursdays with his truck and tosses our bags in the back for what destination, I don’t know. I’m just grateful. The stove runs on a propane tank, but the water heater is electric, and the toilet flushes upward to a septic tank and leach field about 20 feet up the hill above our house.

I can’t fathom physics here.

Depending upon the time of day, the water in the tidal river either flows up or down in front of my windows. My head spins trying to keep track of the tides. Sometimes the water is dead flat, reflecting everything perfectly like a lake.

I can’t figure out why.

People are very friendly, even though they drop their “r”s and remind me of Mr. Quint and his siblings on “Curious George,” which is comforting.

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Thank you for being patient, Mainers, and for letting me call all of you Mr. Quint.

This meme will also work here. Replace Boston with Maine:

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The small town parade on the Fourth of July, however, was just like our small town parades back in the west, with balloons and streamers on ATVs, and fire engines honking, and random pieces of candy tossed out of vehicles to friends along the roadside. A few hit us. Chocolate. Because it’s not 98 degrees outside, but only 73, they can throw chocolate. Brilliant. Some things have felt like home, I just need to keep finding those.

This, below, didn’t feel like home, but it was exciting: Eastport, Maine, on the Fourth of July with a navy destroyer behind us.

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I told my kids that while standing on that pier, we were further east than anyone else in the United States. That’s when my 17-year-old son, who didn’t even want to leave the van and stood in protest behind my husband taking the picture, said, “But Mom, there are about a dozen more people further east than us on this pier. They win.”

That’s my ray-of-sunshine child, my builder of confidence. He was absolutely right. And since it was overcast, I’m not even sure if we were east or not. I’m just making things up as I go along, as I’ve been doing ever since I got to Maine.

I didn’t get lost getting to the post office or the recycling center yesterday, so I take those as small victories.

And seeing as how I didn’t even realize it was Wednesday, the day I usually write my blog, until the day was nearly over (and why this posting is coming on Thursday), I’m gonna take every victory I can get until I figure out how to function at sea level.

It’s still June, right?

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 1–House is cleaned, children are dense, Wyoming is long

Drive from Utah to Maine, Day 1

(Current location, Cheyenne, Wyoming. “No, kids—not Shee-YEE-NEE. I don’t care how you sound it out.”)

Woke up at 3:30 am in Hyrum Utah, because who can sleep when there’s 5 hours of cleaning to do, finishing packing two vans and a moving truck, and an 8-hour drive to Wyoming.

Stared at the dark ceiling until it was the late hour of 5:30 am when I took my hour-long Farewell Tour: I walked my normal route around my neighborhood saying quiet goodbyes and thank-yous to neighbors and friends and watching the coming sun slowly light up the Wellsvilles Mountains. I’ve pretty much run out of tears to shed about leaving where I finally thought we’d settle forever. Today I was just grateful for the time.

Spent the next 5 hours cleaning and cleaning (I’ll have nightmares tonight that I’m still not done), and saying goodbye to friends who dropped by, even though I was hoping for a French Exit, as my mother used to call it. “Sneak away when no one’s looking, and if someone does see you, say only ‘Au revoir’—never say ‘Good-bye’. That’s too final.” Agreed. Still, people insist on being nice and bringing us travel treats and hugs, dang them.

11:45 am took my last stroll through the house where we lived for nine years, where I felt the most at home of any home of the eight we’ve had over 29 years. I said goodbye, it didn’t say anything back (fortunately, but I was pretty tired so I wouldn’t have been surprised).

Took off at noon, each vehicle with a walkie-talkie and naming our vehicles. The moving truck my husband is driving is Jeremy, the minivan where my 20-year-old and 18-year-old drive is Hammond, and I in the 15-pax van am driving is Captain Slow. I wanted to change those designations after we discovered Penske truck rental had helpfully put a 70 mph limiter on the moving truck, and the 80 mph signs taunted us throughout Wyoming.

Less than an hour from home, got a text from my neighbor sad that she missed saying goodbye (French Exit was better—she always gets me crying). I handed the phone to my 17-year-old co-pilot. “Text her back! Tell her I’m sorry too, and that—”

17: “I’ve never texted before in my life, and I’m not about to start now.”

Something you should know about this boy: he’s a 67-year-old curmudgeon trapped in a teenager’s body. He hates kids on the lawn.

17: “Why don’t you call her like people should?”

Me: “This canyon’s dangerous and reception is spotty. Text her back!”

17: “It’s not like either of you is dying. You’ll see her again, if not now that in the eternities.” [eye-roll]

I want a different co-pilot. This one’s ridiculously sensible.

His 9-year-old sister in the bench behind us is bored:

9: Think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: No, let’s play hangman, and you think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: [exasperated sigh] Mom, think of a word.

Me: Ok, it’s got 5 letters. (17 is smirking already)

9: Is there an a?

Me: Yep, first letter.

9: Is there an e?

Me: Last one.

9: [after trying about seven other letters] Is there a p?

Me: Two of them.

9: [long pause] Wait, is it apple?

Hangman takes a long time in our car.

Overheard on our radios as we drove:

“Dad, how far until our dinner stop?”

“Your brother [age 13] say it’s one minute ten seconds away, but the rest of the world would read the tablet as ‘One hour, ten minutes.’”

Our 13-year-old has never been away from a working computer this long in his life. Everything is going to drag for him.

Then: “Dad, those are pronghorns, right?”

“Do they look like cows?”

“Just making sure.”

Everyone has a treat bag to last them for the six days it’ll take to travel. May have to restock by Tuesday afternoon.

Everything in Wyoming is named after butts. Buttes. Whatever. Only 50 miles into the drive I realized I’d be staring at my husband’s yellow Penske butt truck for the next six days. Going to haunt my nightmares along with the worry there’s another level to the house I forgot to clean.

I’ve stared out at the wide vistas many times, taking it all in because I won’t have so many views soon.

I snerk at those on the coasts who lament the country’s too crowded. They never driven through Wyoming. We’ll still be driving through it tomorrow. Since we have many more states to go, and still are only one state away from where we left, it’s not looking to promising. Then I remember the states get smaller as we go east.

The kids romped at the pool at the motel where we landed at 8:30 pm, now everyone’s crashing, as am I. I took pictures—blurry, sideways pictures with my compact camera (yes, I still have one) as I drove because 17 also doesn’t do pictures (I REALLY need a new copilot), but I’m too weary to post any tonight. I took a Benadryl to help me sleep (because I cannot sleep in motels, either). Should be kicking in about ten minutes from now . . . hence the rambling, blobby nature of this.

Picture this, since it will be clearer than my photos: Wyoming is long and wide and filled with scrubby brush. There’s a yellow truck in front of me. Pretty much it.

Tomorrow we will, God willing, make it to Iowa with our two 16-year-old vans, one truck, and six children and two parents. I’m letting 17 get some driving practice in the minivan with his 20-year-old brother on the long straightaways, and I’m looking for a new copilot. My 18-year-old daughter is a genius at texting, even though after a year of college she’s still not sure what a pronghorn looks like or how to pronounce Cheyenne.

Book 6 Teaser: Toss that past! (Or, how I finally let go of bad 30-year-old paintings and other junk that holds me back)

There’s one huge advantage to moving cross-country: knowing that everything you own has to fit in one truck, or it gets left behind. The “There’s no going back for that,” mentality has forced me to evaluate what can be released. Web and Facebook pages of minimalist strategies has helped me to see the clutter I no longer want to.

It’s also allowed me to give up things from my past that I should have shed decades ago.

Such as my oil paintings from high school. My father kindly framed them, my mother generously displayed them, but aside from some decent technique here and there, the paintings were unremarkable. So much so that for thirty years—30!—I’ve kept them in a bulky box and carted them from home to home, across the country twice, and finally, last month donated them to a recycling store. Someone else can paint over the canvas.

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While this won first place in a school district competition, it’s an EXACT replica of a very common 1980s poster. What’s the point of replicating a $3 poster?!

I held on to the mediocre art, not even fit for a motel room, because it represented something: my teenage dream to someday be a wildlife artist. I’m “artistic” in that I’ve remodeled homes, made many designs for my Etsy shop, created my book covers, but I never painted that one great work of art.

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The best thing about this cougar was the head, which my art teacher did to get me started. Notice my “happy little trees“? Yes, I was a Bob Ross watcher.

Finally I accepted that I don’t have to fulfill a dream I randomly pulled out of the air when I was 16. I may someday pick up fine art painting again, and if I do, would I really want these old paintings haunting me with bad proportions, inconsistencies, and random highlights and shadows? No!

So I did what I’d wanted to do two decades ago, but didn’t dare: I sent them on their way, grateful for what I learned, and ready to look forward, not backward.

I’ve done this with many objects: clothes I’ve held on to for too many years, books I’ll never read again, dishes and collectibles and Christmas décor and fabric I’ve kept out of obligation. All of it is gloriously gone, at least half a moving truck full.

I keep putting aside those things that hold me back, that remind me of what I used to be, and the old dreams that I no longer care about. Unfinished stitching projects, untouched wood crafts that went out of fashion in the 1990s, old stencils I used for a bathroom two houses and fifteen years ago.

When I let those go, I get to look forward. I get to plan for what I want to become now, where I hope to go in the future.

Gone, too, is a lot of regret, a lot of “Oh, I should have kept pursuing this, although I had no time or resources or desire.” I’m able to think, “It seemed like a worthy pursuit at the time, and it’s had its moment which is now over. I get to pursue something new.”

Solidly in middle age, I’m finding the satisfaction of releasing my younger self. I no longer collect teddy bears or snowmen . . . or anything, really. Once I thought collections were necessary. Now each week I make sure my extra garbage can is brim full of stuff that previously held me back. To the donation store goes tablecloths I never used, to the neighbors go canning jars and vases I won’t fill, and to the dump goes the sofas I can no longer repair.

No more hauling around old expectations and obligations, or feeling guilty about dreams that were never feasible or necessary anyway.

Onward, I get to go freely.

While Peto knew the satisfaction of harping about the past, he also knew that satisfaction was short-lived, soon to be replaced with renewed feelings of anger about a life that couldn’t be changed, words that couldn’t be unsaid, and events that couldn’t be erased. The past was to be occasionally remembered, but not lived in.

There’s too much to do today to dwell on yesterday.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser THE PAST