I know it’s scary; do it anyway.

This is my mantra, because I am a coward, always have been.

Yet I recently found myself sitting in Logan Airport in Boston, MA and realized I’d gotten there all by myself which, just a few years ago, would have been impossible.

I’m scared of traveling because too many things can go wrong.

I hate new things in general, like moving to new cities because I don’t know where the grocery store is, I don’t know how to set up my house, and my kids have no friends. And new states? Oh, even worse!

I dread starting new jobs because I worry my ineptitude will disappoint others.

All I’ve ever wanted is to hide in a corner and live a small, quiet life. I wanted to get married, get a house, and never go anywhere again.

To recall an old metaphor, I’m a ship most comfortable in the harbor.

Which is exactly why God shoves me out, wailing and flailing, because nothing ever happens where it’s safe.

I did get married over thirty years ago, and did get a house, and then another one, and another one, and another one . . . all together we’ve moved 15+ times (three times in eleven months’ time in 2017-2018). With every moved I clenched my muscles for months until I had boxes unpacked and figured out the new grocery stores. Understanding the new city or state could take years and I never feel completely at “home.”

We’ve also traveled all over the country, with up to eight children in tow, often camping and even flying, which means I’m constantly counting heads and bags. I once had a panic attack before taking off in a plane, and only because my husband was petting my back like a cat did I not leap to my feet and cry out, “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” (Since that was shortly after 9/11, the incident would have likely banned me from flying.)

But I’m different now.

My anxiety is greatly diminished, my fears held in check, my confidence stronger.

Medication? Nope.
Therapy? Not really.
Living in that secure corner of the basement? Not always.

So what changed?

Just over two years ago, my husband who was working in Maine told me I needed to visit him and realize this was where we were moving to. I hadn’t flown since that panic attack years ago, and had never alone. I was so terrified that I asked some people in my neighborhood to pray with me and for me. I drove in a blizzard to the Salt Lake City airport at 5 am chanting calming ditties like, “I won’t die, I won’t die, please don’t let me die.”

And I didn’t die. I made it.

And I flew again home four days later.

But everything I worried about going wrong did: my flight out of Bangor was cancelled because of mechanical issues so I had to wait 12 hours for another plane.

Then that flight got delayed because of snow, and in Philadelphia my plane was overbooked so I volunteered to wait for another flight taking off hours later. (My itinerary was shot to heck by then anyway.) That flight went to Texas and got in late which meant I was running full tilt in Dallas/Ft. Worth trying to find my connection. My new mantra was, “Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost! Crap, I’m lost!”

But I got to my plane with a whole three minutes to spare. When I finally landed in Salt Lake City—and in more snow—it was 2 am and I was so exhausted that I stopped halfway home and pulled over in a dark road to sleep in a freezing car for an hour, all by myself.

I reached home about 26 hours later than originally planned. But I survived and netted $500 from the airline for giving up my seat. I felt strangely triumphant.

I had realized that I could face problems and actually work through them. This little ship that I am (ok, rather a tubby tug boat) made it through the storm, rather late and very tired, but successfully.

That’s when I began to notice the change: I don’t need to fear and worry during stressful situations—I need to work through and overcome them.

Running away from scary situations doesn’t work.
Running through them does.

And then we moved to Maine—our third cross-country move. The first two long-distance moves were incredibly difficult, made worse by traveling with newborns, but I learned what worked and didn’t work. In fact, this third move driving for six days was, dare I say it—enjoyable? (The youngest child was six, which made everything much easier.)

I was glad that I hadn’t avoided those earlier scarier moves. I didn’t stubbornly stay in the harbor and declare, “I’m not going!” I confess I shed tears about leaving—in the past and this most recent move—and I needed friends’ and family’s help to get going. But we eventually succeeded.

And then in 2017 I took on a new job—teaching high school.

For the first three months I kept thinking, “It’s too hard, I’m too incompetent, every day is a new surprise. My gut is in constant knots, my tachycardiac heart is at 120 bpm every day, and I’m exhausted by 7 pm, but I still have lesson plans to write. It’s going to break me.”
Then I decided, “I’ll quit over Christmas vacation—they’ll have time to find a replacement.”
Then, “I’ll quit at the semester break in January.”
Then, “I’ll quit at February break.”
Then, “I’ll quit at April break . . . Wait, the school year’s over in less than two months . . . Can I actually finish?”

I did finish. And I didn’t break.

In fact, I didn’t even flinch when they asked if I wanted to come back for the next year. I’d already been planning how to rearrange my classroom and redo lesson plans.

I didn’t run away from the stress; I ran through it.

I didn’t stay safe in the harbor; I headed out into rough seas and am surviving and even occasionally enjoying myself. (And yes, I’ve been out on a lobster boat–twice–so I’m practically an expert on the ocean, thank you very much.)

Earlier this week I headed out alone again: drove two hours, then took a bus for four hours, then flew from Boston to Philadelphia to Roanoke, VA to visit my daughter and her family.

I didn’t even start stressing about the trip until two days earlier, and even then the stress was minimal, as in, “I need to do laundry and get my husband a freezer full of meals . . . nah, he can just take the kids to McDonald’s.”

I’m still a coward, but I do what scares me anyway. I think of the scripture where God declares that He will “give unto men weakness that they may be humble . . . if they humble themselves before me . . . then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I’ve been very weak, and God’s making me stronger.
But what if I ran away from every challenge? What if I quit too soon?
Then I’d still be a terrified, paralyzed nothing in the corner basement of my first house.

But now it’s been five states, half a dozen houses, thousands of adventures—and none of that would have happened had I stubbornly stayed in that safe harbor.
I’m still scared of the rough oceans but now I’ve also learned to enjoy them.

And I haven’t drowned yet.

And neither will you.

scary do it anyway

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.

Image result for mr quint curious george

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:

Image result for boston khakis meme

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: Day 6+ From Utahns to Maine-iacs

“I don’t know where it is.”

“Since I don’t have a linen closet–or any closets for that matter–just stick that in my bedroom.”

“Did I say garage? I meant the cellar. No! BATHROOM!”

“Since I don’t have a laundry room, just stick that in the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom!”

“Don’t panic yet–it’ll turn up eventually.”

And that sums up all the sentences that have come out of my mouth since Saturday at 5:30 p.m. when we finally cruised into Machiasport, Maine.

I didn’t feel I could sit down and update this blog until the house was in somewhat sort of livable condition, and since it’s about 150 years old, and my kids are used to clean, updated, new-paint-and-flooring houses, they’re dying in this rental which they claim will NEVER be livable because the wood floors are older than any structure west of Nebraska and the smell of “old damp” permeates everything, and their idea of “charming” is not the same as the local definition (but Mainers say it’s a FANTASTIC house so my kids are getting nervous) . . . where did I begin this sentence? Yeah, it’s been nonstop for the past two days.

(And yes, my washer and dryer are in the very big bathroom because it was originally a bedroom because this house was built LONG before indoor plumbing, so a claw-foot tub is smack-dab in the middle of the room, a shower is in one corner, the washer and dryer are in another corner, and the toilet stands at the head of it all like a throne in a plumbing castle. The door opens to smack it so you need to brace yourself in case someone barges in since the lock is also over a hundred years old and we’re all terrified to lock it because we might not ever get out again.)

So we left Concord, NH Saturday morning (I was about to take pictures of all the New Hampshire license plates, since it’s rare that you see those, until my 20-year-old reminded me that we’re not in the west anymore but were, in actuality, in New Hampshire) and we made decent progress until we realized it was a sunny weekend in summer and everyone was going to the beach.

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And then, finally,  we saw THE SIGN!

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And I thought, “The snacks lasted! We didn’t run out of drinks! There are still toys to play with! We made it!”

And then about an hour later my 18-year-old reported that the inside of the minivan was dripping water on her foot, and we decided the AC didn’t know how to respond to humidity and we were NOT about stop anymore, so we kept on for three more hours until we saw . . .

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“Hey kids–do you know they grow blueberries here? The small ones and the big ones?”

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Over the radio I heard, “Mom and Dad, where have you brought us? Is that seriously an all-blue tourist trap?” Yes, so was the Ford dealership (and also the cake someone delivered for us: blueberry and cinnamon, which didn’t last long at all).

 

And then, finally:

That’s when I started speaking only in the five lines listed above. Our branch of the church sent out the call and for the next hour and a half I was in the truck handing out boxes and bins and saying all the wrong words because sea-level makes me dizzy (seriously–happens every time I descend from my mountains, but it wears off in about three or four swirling days). Then suddenly the truck was empty, generous families filled our fridge with pulled pork and baked ziti and noodle-meatball-bbq sauce casserole, and I stared out at the fields of wild lupines everywhere (photos to come) and I wondered just what had happened.

Well, first, there was an explosion of boxes in our house which still hasn’t been cleared but should be gone in another day or two.

Second, I discovered that morning comes VERY early here in the Sunrise County, meaning that the sun was pouring into my east-facing windows, reflecting off the water so that I was facing the brightness of TWO suns and I thought, “Well the sun’s pretty high already, time to get up to keep unpacking some more,” until I looked at the time and realized that the sun rises on the coast at FOUR-FREAKING-THIRTY A.M.!!! Yes, that 4:30 A.M! What is this, Alaska?

My husband brought home two dark gray flannel blankets that we’ve safety-pinned up as curtains for our bedroom.

Third, I discovered that the sun sets a bit earlier than I am used to, but that I have a pretty cool view out of my bedroom window. Here’s how it looked tonight at 8:30 p.m.:

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That’s my laptop on the bottom left, and that’s the sun setting on the tidal inlet, right in front of me.

Fourth, I’m slowly discovered what Maine life means–a little slower, more laid-back, less concerned about appearances, more honest and sincere (all of those are lovely, lovely things, as is the very British accent of my new neighbor) and the local McDonald’s has a different menu:

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We also learned that the very first naval battle in the Revolutionary War launched just a couple hundred feet from our rental house. It’s not quite as impressive as it sounds (a couple ships, a few shots fired), but there’s a whole building two down dedicated to its memory, and we’ll take that distinction.

This evening we took a break from two days of unpacking and trying to construct IKEA furniture, and headed down to Roque Bluffs to see the water, find a few shells, freak out our youngest son who we realized is terrified of the ocean (but went to it after bribes from his brothers for popcorn and Plants vs. Zombies), and to begin to take in where we now live.

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This morning I looked outside as the tide was coming in, noticed some critters leaving a wake, and knowing that seals frequently go up and back with the tide, took my bowl of cereal outside to eat and watch the water when the sun was where it normally would be at noon but it was barely 9 a.m. My life is very, very different now than I’d ever thought it would be, and while I’m utterly exhausted and thoroughly grateful our trip has ended without major incident and that all of us are here and slowly, slowly settling in, I think it’s going to be just fine.

 

Then I discovered that the old wooden Adirondack chair I was sitting in was giving me a splinter in my behind, and my up-far-too-early brain concluded that this moment–gazing out on an unusual and beautiful scenery with soggy cereal and a sliver in my butt–pretty much summed up life.

And that I really, desperately, need to catch up on sleep. Good night.

(Addendum–I was about to hit publish when my 5-year-old came in for his good-night kiss. I took him to his room, showed him that while he was playing I put together his bed, set up his toy bins under it, and put his four favorite pillows around the top. He squealed in delight and said, “Thanks, Mom! That’s all I wanted! You’re the best!” I’ll take that.)

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 5–Road weary, tire weary, weary weary

Yesterday morning in New York demonstrated our growing weariness with the trip, because SOMEONE didn’t retrieve SOMEONE ELSE’S travel pillow even though SOMEONE was trying to help with other loading tasks, and even though SOMEONE ELSE went back to find a lost watch SOMEONE should have noticed a red pillow sitting among the white blankets! Pillow was retrieved, tensions are as thick as the rain-soaked air.

We drove to Palmyra, had tours of cozy farm houses that reminded Dave and I of a few houses we looked at in Maine (to us from Utah, anything older than 150 years is ancient; on the east coast, it isn’t worth noticing until it’s 300 years old) took a lovely walk through a grove of trees, some of us walked up a steep hill while others decided to run straight up it and roll back down it, then we continued on our way east.

I love the Finger Lakes region of New York and can’t wait to explore it more. I’m also looking forward to hipsters finally noticing that the Indian place names would make awesome names for their kids, and I really want to see a kindergartner try to write out Canandaigua.

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5 year-old in seat behind me wanted something from his 13-year-old brother. He said, “I want to see sumfink,” 15 times before his brother finally relented. It was likely more, but I lost count and patience after the last, “I want to see sumfink. Hey, I want to see sumfink . . .” LET HIM SEE IT!!!!

My 13-year-old has been making trash bottles, shoving all the garbage he can into our old Sunny D bottles. Good to have hobbies.

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Progress was good until outside of Troy, New York, when my son in the van behind us noticed a bulge in the back tire of my 15-passenger van which delayed us by us two hours because we had to find a place in the town to pull over, then we realized our old spare tire was cracked, then we had to track down a tire store willing to help us (“We’re closing in 10 minutes–it’s almost 6pm. Call us tomorrow.”), find a place still open for half an hour, pound on their doors and beg them to stop their employee training meeting to get us a new tire, haul it back to the Walmart where we had parked and the kids were retrieving dinner, get it put on, and finally get on our way hours later again.

It was getting dark and starting to rain by the time we hit Vermont, and state I’ve been looking forward to seeing, but will have to see another time.

But the roads also end in Vermont—there was a big sign: “Warning—road ends in 1500 feet.” What the heck does that mean?! I was picturing Shel Silverstein’s “Where the sidewalk ends,” and seeing a cavern opening ominously in 1500 feet. But, fortunately, there was a T and the roads continued only in different names. Note to Vermont: Everyone ELSE in the country would call that a “junction.” Please change your signs before I come back again so I don’t need to panic.

In Vermont there is a store with giant plastic cows on the roof. (Growing too dark to take a picture of it.) Also horses and moose painted like cows.  Maybe I don’t need to see that much of Vermont after all.

There was also a store with literally hundred of Adirondack chairs outside of it. I guess people in Vermont like to sit a lot?

Although we passed through what is likely the cutest town in all of America—a resort with darling inns and shops–I couldn’t pay attention to it in the dark and rain because 10 miles before my 13-year-old announced that he was nauseated and felt diarrhea coming on and all I could think was, “Do none of these cute places believe in gas stations with BATHROOMS?!”

Found one, filled up cars, and waited for son. And waited. He was sort of ok, but we stopped again an hour later for him, which means we didn’t get into New Hampshire until after 10pm, but still we did over our radios every routine we could remember from “What About Bob?”

My 20-year-old observed that the rumble strips in New Hampshire vibrate his seat. We’re calling them the New Hampshire butt massage.

The worst invention in the world is Gas Station TV.

Ill 13-year-old thinks the images on the NH signs look like faces. If the signs start talking to him, then he’s really sick.

I’ve been worried about my husband’s relationship with Siri, his electronic girlfriend who he trusts with directions more than he trusts me (I’m notoriously unreliable) until I heard him yelling at her when she, for the fourth time, failed to tell us how to get to the nearest Walmart. I think he’s just using her for this trip, and when it’s over, he’s going to dump her. Serves her right.

We got to our motel room in Concord, NH just before midnight, too weary to do anything else but flop onto our double-size beds (I worry about the boys’ in their room, who have trouble sharing queen-size beds) and decide we’re going to sleep in a bit this morning and make sure 13-year-old isn’t sick anymore. But he announced as he got to his room, “I could wake up early and go use the swimming pool, couldn’t I?” causing his 17-year-old brother to announce he thinks the sickness was all a ruse just to sit shotgun through the winding roads of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Just as we were drifting off to sleep early this morning, we heard, “Oh—OH! My tooth came out!” I hoped it was my 9-year-old, and I hoped it was a baby tooth. It was, I got her a wet washcloth, took a picture, then said, “Congratulations, but New Hampshire doesn’t have the Tooth Fairy.” (New York toll roads took all our cash). Mother of the year award goes to me.

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It’s raining this morning, so views aren’t too grand yet. But by this afternoon/tonight, depending how slow we are today, we should be official Maineiacs.  I’ll believe it when I see it. “I want to see sumfink!”

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 4–Welcome to the east, Kirtland, and our 29th anniversary

(Current location, Batavia, NY, a town in upstate New York which has at least four different ways to pronounce it and we’re probably still not saying it correctly.)

Something strange happened as I stepped out of our hotel this morning into the heavy, warm, humid air of Ohio. Memories rushed me, and it was as if I were for the first time in many years eating a dessert my grandmother had made me but I’d forgotten about. The mugginess, the trees, the farms, the gray air—suddenly I remembered all about living in Virginia for five years and thought, “Wait a minute—I LIKE this!”

Driving through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York has felt like the states are welcoming me back (we’d visited here a few times over a decade ago), like they’re that friend you had in high school that you forgot all about until she friends you on Facebook, and you think, “Oh yeah! YOU! Oh, I forgot you! I’m so glad we’re together again!”

The east coast is my forgotten high school friend. Every mile I’m getting more excited to renew our friendship.

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Why yes, I do DO feel welcomed!

Shortly after this I heard my 5 and 9-year-olds in the back seat having the following conversation:

“Housebuilder and General Grievous want to come over to play.”

“Ok, but we have to move the silly putty and get out the magnifying glass.”

I just don’t know, I really don’t.

I have to put in a plug about my kids—my three oldest take turns driving and willingly take the younger ones to the restrooms, get them treats, and make sure no one’s missing. Everyone has tasks, and they are all good about retrieving the radios to be recharged, getting everyone’s bags and coolers into the hotel, and packing everything up again. This cart below will be packed to the top before it gets to the elevator:

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(Shortly after this, another woman used this trolley putting on it three small grocery bags. I nearly scoffed and said, “Lady, THAT’S not the way to use that trolley!”)

I don’t even have to deal with my 5-year-old at night because his 20-year-old brother takes care of him. I am incredibly grateful that they are all remaining good-natured, cheerful, and willing each day. They wake up on time, get themselves to the breakfast buffet (which is the BEST part of each day—all kinds of food that I didn’t have to make and that I don’t have to clean up!) then they make seating arrangements, my 18 and 20-year-old trading off driving the minivan depending upon who’s the least tired, my 17-year-old acts as servant to his siblings sitting behind us in the big van, and the 13-year-old is my husband’s navigator in the moving truck.

I thought today, on our 29th wedding anniversary, that my husband and I have been blessed with incredibly good kids, and that they are who they are not because of anything we’ve done raising them, but because they came to us that way. We don’t deserve any of it, I know.

I’m writing today from Batavia, NY, which isn’t too far away from Toledo, OH, and although Siri had us get on and off and on and off the freeway around Cleveland pointlessly (but we got lots of views of it, as you can see below), that’s not why we made so little progress.

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We took a detour to Kirtland, OH, for four hours where we visited the Mormon church sites where the early pioneers were in the 1830s and saw their store, houses, sawmill, and ashery.

(I had NO idea such a thing existed: burn ashes?! That’s like watering water!)

We then took a tour of the Kirtland Temple owned by the Community of Christ and heard the same history, but with different angles which proved to be excellent family discussion during lunch at yet another Wendy’s (although my 17 year old snuck in a Little Caesar’s pizza), comparing the different takes on the history.

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Twelve years ago we did the tour of the Kirtland Temple where the young tour guide pointed out only the architecture, but this time a preacher of the Church of Christ named Rick led the tour. He actually talked about the spiritual significance of the structure, and led our group of fourteen tourists in singing the first verse of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.” That’s always been my favorite hymn, and I will never be able to forget the experience of our few out-of-tune voices singing it there in the room where it was first performed and where so many important and fantastic experiences occurred. It was all I could do to keep from tearing up. Our tone-deaf singing actually sounded good together, for probably the first and last time ever.

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We got into our hotel room at a decent hour (before 9 pm!) for once, and compared notes about if the pleasant toll booth worker was perhaps a different gender than they were dressed up to be. My husband now has foot cramps, and my sons are punching his feet to make them feel better. It’s not working, but still they valiantly try with even more punches. I’m doing a load of laundry now, enjoying the broken dryer which runs continuously without any coins needed, wondering what else I could throw in there just for fun.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Palmyra, NY for some touring and then on to New Hampshire, where I’ve always wanted to visit and always wanted to say this:

(Interesting note–that movie was actually filmed in Virginia where we used to live, so actually we WERE in the movie New Hampshire, not the real one. Actually, none of that was really interesting, so just never mind.)

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 3–Preschooler poops, too many “I” states, and I’m worried about food stuff

(Location: Toledo, Ohio. No sightings of Klinger still, but my M*A*S*H fans family are still hopeful.)

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Should you happen to see these three vehicles, that’s us.

I forgot to tell you yesterday that my youngest kids were delighted to find out that fireflies are real, and that they sometimes leave fun glowy spots on your windshield at night. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that meant the fireflies had splatted like all of the other bugs permanently embedded in the glass.

This morning I woke up my husband with the romantic words, “Do you realize our youngest son hasn’t pooped in three days?”

Fortunately 5-year-old did a few hours later in Iowa. Unfortunately it was at a gas station bathroom with only one stall, and while two men waited for their turn to get in, he grunted and groaned while I kept post in front of the door. Occasionally I opened it and asked, “Need any help?” I hope the men waiting heard his loud reply of, “These STINKIES are REALLY HARD to GET OUT!”

Five long, agonizing minutes later, with a line growing to get in there, my youngest finally came out triumphant. “Got them out! They were really hard–”

“Yes, please, let’s just go . . .”

Sometimes our medium-speed truck gets to pass even slower trucks, and I feel like we’ve accomplished something great, until I realize that it’s the equivalent of winning the 50 yard dash at the geriatrics Olympics.

Here’s another brilliant traveling idea: I went to the dollar store before the trip and bought random items for my younger kids: stickers, coloring books, pipe cleaners, dry erase boards–put them in a bag and gave it to them on the first day.

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The bags also work as a catch-all for everything else.

Here’s a BETTER brilliant idea: our friends gave us 12 gifts, two to be opened each day. That’s how we got BB8, and now have puzzles and silly putty and even two cookie sheets to use as little lap tables. Every morning my kids eagerly open two new items.

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BEST brilliant idea: fruit-scented stickers. When my 9-year-old opened up the package, it was like a fruit stand exploded in the car. Considering how ripe it’s becoming in there, that’s not a bad thing. I think there’s another package of the scented stickers, and I’m saving that for our last day on Saturday.

Two hampers of dirty clothes can develop a fermenting quality, especially when positioned where the sun can focus its beam on a particular smelly sock.

The traffic outside of Chicago, which delayed us an additional hour, left all of us nostalgic for the wide open nothingness of Wyoming and Nebraska.

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I can’t tell you how much this truck below has had me worried.

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I just don’t understand it: why are there warnings about explosiveness? And an electricity sticker? And WHAT KIND OF FOOD STUFF IS THIS?!

We ate lunch at a Wendy’s in Illinois, in a town near the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. As I squirted tons of ketchup for our seven 4-for-$4 meals, I remembered fondly that Reagan once classified ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches. Ah, those were the days of great school food!

Maybe the Food Stuff Only truck is related?

All through Indiana I never saw Ron Swanson, who I wrote in for president. All in all a disappointing state. The Food Stuff truck above was there, though. I fear there may be a connection.

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I don’t have a picture of the sign welcoming us to Illinois, because I was asleep while my 18 year-old daughter kindly drove. Later we crossed a river when I was awake and driving, and I radioed my husband, “Is this the Mississippi?”

“No, this is a canal. You slept through the Mississippi River.”

I have no idea where we are sometimes. There are too many states that begin with I and too many rivers that begin with M. We passed one here in Ohio spelled Maumee. Is that pronounced “Mommy”? I really hope so.

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There are toll roads in the east, for those of you in the west. Sometimes they even stump/surprise the locals.

My husband had to get out of his truck since the driver in front of him wasn’t getting her ticket. He’s still not sure what the problem was, why she seemed unable to push the button and retrieve her ticket, but we’re newcomers here. We don’t judge. We just get out of the car after five minutes of waiting for no clear reason to see if we can move things along.

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I’m beginning to think that maybe this is karma of some kind, since my son made others wait impatiently for their “turn.”

Especially if those men ate some of that Food Stuffs that’s electrified and potentially explosive.

The midwest is a scary place.

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 2–Siri lies, “Housebuilder” joins us, and Nebraska is as long as Wyoming

Our 9.5 hour drive took 14+ hours, and I still don’t know why. But we made it to Indianoloa, Iowa, and while I hoped to be more coherent this evening, that ain’t gonna happen, so let’s not even pretend. But I did find a way to download my photos!

Here’s my view of my husband’s big yellow butt that I wrote about yesterday:

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You know how many anagrams you can make from the word “Penske”? Yeah, that many. I have all the words on the truck memorized, and will for the rest of my life.

Here’s what went on today:

5-year-old son woke up so disoriented that he hid in a closet for ten minutes until we lured him out with his new Star Wars underwear. He came out of the closet for Yoda. (Something about that sentence isn’t right, but I’m not sure what yet.)

My husband asked his phone how much road construction there will be after we funneled once again into one lane. It told him the next 3,000 miles were only one lane, but it lied–we had at least five miles of double lanes.

Thank goodness my 5 y.o. is enthralled by long trains and small cows and his new Webkind travel buddy: a gray-and-white koala he’s inexplicably called “Housebuilder.” Housebuilder is best friends with a Bop-It BB8 toy/game our friends gave us as a travel gift. My youngest left them alone in the van so they could eat in private. They sat on his blanket, but I have no idea what they ate while we had lunch at a Veterans’ Memorial park in Nebraska.

Below is my brilliant idea: We bought a ton of snacky foods, divided them, and put them in baggies with people’s names on them. Now each person can eat whatever they like during the trip without bugging anyone to reach into a bin to find something good. I’d show you a picture of mine, but it’s only full of gluten-free, high fiber nutrition treats because I already ate all of my Skittles.

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When a person’s mind gets bored in Nebraska (about as dull as Wyoming, although my 13 y.o. asked to go back to Wyoming because he thought it was slightly more interesting) one starts to look for anything to think of.

But was I composing the prequel to my book series or contemplating the deeper meanings of the cosmos? No. I was obsessed with this trailer I was stuck behind for ten miles:

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IT’S SO WRONG!

First, I spent three full minutes trying to understand “Dont dead, open inside,” until I realized they intended you to read it TOP to BOTTOM. Hey, this isn’t Japan, you know.

Next, WHERE’S THE FREAKING APOSTROPHE?! I got real close (probably too close) searching the sloppy font for it in the DONT, but it’s not there! I even took this photo while driving, looking for apostrophic evidence.

Then I spent the next five minutes running Mission Impossible/Wile Coyote scenarios in my mind as to how I could create a suspension bridge between us, take the Sharpie I had in the van, inch over to the back of the trailer, and FIX THE WORDS!

Then I spent the next too many minutes thinking, “Why would you put zombies in a nice trailer? Transport them in cattle cars–they won’t care: THEY’RE UNDEAD!”

Man, was I glad when that trailer pulled away.

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The items in our trailer are slowly trying to escape. Can you guess what we’re transporting? Two of the pokey-outy-bits have me stumped, and I helped put the tarp on it.

There’s a particular bathroom at a gas station in Nebraska where the men’s urinal is unfortunately placed in relation to the door. Please don’t ask how I know that.

17 y.o. figured out how to take a picture!

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He snapped this and smugly said, “Because of my skill in computer games, I can point and shoot just about anything.”

The reason I don’t have any pictures of the Welcome to Iowa sign is because while we were driving I asked him to open my gluten-free loaf of bread package, and the pressurized bag exploded on him as he ripped it open with his teeth, and he was momentarily overwhelmed by gluten-free gas just as we got on to bridge crossing the Missouri River. Seriously.

Announced on the radio by my husband: “It’s 100% today–every RV is driven by someone with a mustache.” Which sent me on another deep-thought adventure: Is it required that people grow a mustache BEFORE they purchase the RV, or does the RV then make people think, “I need a ‘stache to go along with this”? What about the women? These thoughts kept me going for nearly half an hour, I’m sorry to report.

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Evidence that we’re getting closer to Ron Swanson territory. I’m waiting anxiously to find a “Food and Stuff.”

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I didn’t need a sign to tell me this.

To pretend this trip is something of a vacation, we stopped in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where Mormon Pioneers fled after being expelled from Illinois, and where they prepared to head to Salt Lake City. We had only an hour there, but realizing that we spent two days driving what took pioneers MONTHS to do was humbling and refreshing.

Here they told us that across the street was a burial ground of 300+ pioneers, more than half of them children who died along the way. Heck, we haven’t lost one of ours yet.

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Then we went to take a picture of the tiny temple there and look at the cemetery, where we could read the names and ages of every last pioneer who died there.

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Then I tried to take selfies of us in front of the temple.

My selfie skills are surpassed.

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I don’t think people are looking. Let’s try that again.

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Did someone get cut off? One more time:

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I feel like people aren’t taking this seriously. Again?

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Ok, something’s seriously wrong with my 13 y. o. He’s the one who thinks Wyoming was more interesting than Nebraska. See if you can pick him out.

It’s now after midnight, and tomorrow (today?) we hope to get somewhere in Ohio, hopefully before midnight. Good night.

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.

I don’t understand why people like lighthouses and lobster boats—a plea for enlightenment!

In a few weeks I’m moving to the coast of Maine, and I have a problem. I don’t understand something vital to the culture: the appeal of lighthouses and lobster boats.

I need some serious education here because these are iconic symbols. But when I see a lighthouse I think, “What a rickety old building. I guess it’s clever to build it round, but why didn’t they build it into a square shape? And why is it still here?”

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Umm, ok. So it’s a round tower. Why should I like this?

I went through a lighthouse on the mid-Atlantic coast with some relatives a few years ago, and as we left the falling-apart, mildewy structure, I commented, “Someone should just knock this down and improve the view.”

You would have thought that I suggested cutting up the Declaration of Independence to use it as toilet paper.

That “ruining the view” attitude is also my problem when it comes to lobster boats. They’re rusty, look perpetually 60 years old, and get in the way of seeing the water and trees around. But there’s some romantic mystique that I’m missing, because people have photos and paintings of lobster boats everywhere, and some folks even decorate with buoys and lobster traps.

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I can’t see the scenery for the boats!

I feel like Ben Wyatt in “Parks and Rec,” discovering that everyone in Pawnee is enamored with a miniature horse named Lil’ Sebastian. But he doesn’t get it. “It’s just a small horse,” he points out, and everyone glares at him.

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To me, the lobster boats would be like seeing a long-haul vehicle in front of the majestic Tetons. Get that vehicle out of the shot!

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Or visiting a lighthouse is like going to tour a motor home instead of looking at the Rocky Mountains behind it. Why are we looking at this?

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We value what our culture trains us to value, which is why I love the mountains and Yellowstone and the rugged, wild west. A relative from the east coast, however, once went through Yellowstone and came back with this shocking evaluation: “Three days of just bison, hot water, and no TV? I’ve had enough of that dullness to last me a lifetime.”

Oh! Blasphemy!

Then again, this was the person who took me through the lighthouse and thought it was the greatest thing for a hundred miles around.

And I thought it was . . . dull.

You can see that I have a problem—the coast isn’t my culture and I don’t yet know how to appreciate it. I’ve tried researching this, but the assumption is that everyone already knows why lighthouses and lobster boats are appealing.

I want to learn. My parents learned how to embrace their new culture of the wild west after they immigrated from Germany. They learned to love barbecues, pioneers, deserts, and even said “Howdy” on occasion, and meant it!

So I’m issuing a plea: Explain to me the charm, lore, and love of lighthouses and lobster boats. Why are they appealing? Why should I get excited when my dear husband says we’re going to visit them?

Teach me to love the culture of my new home.

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