Winter Wonderland

I drove home last night in the snow at 10 PM after a 14-hour shift. The freeway was almost deserted–I saw one vehicle way behind me in my rear-view mirror but it took miles and miles to catch up with me. In the meantime, I drove alone on the snow-covered road with no idea where the lines were. The reflectors on each side of the road gave me some idea that I was on the right track. The snow came down steadily. It wasn’t even that deep but deep enough to obscure the roadway.

When the vehicle finally passed me, it left me in a cloud of snow, blind.

A few minutes later, a semi-truck barreled up behind me and passed me, blowing an even bigger cloud of snow. I was just exiting and slowed to a crawl because I could not tell for sure where the road was.

(Last year’s snow!)

So, that was fun. (Today after church, I came home and immediately started shoveling the driveway. I mean, do I know how to have fun or what?)

I spent my afternoon today sitting on my office floor wrapping Christmas gifts. It would have been easier to stand at the kitchen island, but I needed privacy. Plus, I didn’t want to move my operation to another room. So, the floor it was.

I’m not exactly ready for Christmas, but I’m on my way. I have to be strategic and careful because I’m working so many hours. (Sixty-eight next week? Or was that last week? Or both? I’m not sure but I’m doing little else these days besides working.)

It looks like we’ll have a white Christmas after all. I was starting to wonder.

To those three of you still reading after all these years (!), hope you’re enjoying the holiday season.


Four years ago today, I was laid off from a job I’d held for eleven years, give or take a few weeks. Long before Zoom meetings became popular and working from home became a curse/blessing to countless families, I worked from home. Back then, few of us had the luxury of logging onto our computers while wearing pajamas and starting our day’s tasks.

Anyway, those were the good old days, the ones in which I could keep up with my laundry and start a dinner every night while at “work.”

Then, the dream job came to an end and I scrambled to find another job. I settled on becoming a police dispatcher and after a five month process, secured the job. It was very exciting to go to work out of my house after working from home most of my adult life. Three months later, it was less exciting to be told that while they all liked me, they thought I would be better suited to working in Police Records. (Yes, it hurt my feelings and it was humiliating.)

Listen. Working in Police Records sounds less fancy and true, it pays a lot less, but as it turns out, I really liked the job. I dare say I excelled in working in Police Records, as a matter of fact. I found it terribly interesting (reading crime reports, for instance) and occasionally boring (processing traffic citations). Working with actual other human beings in an office environment was a nice change, too.

And since I never became a trained dispatcher, I never had to work overnights, so there’s that.

But I only worked at the police department for a little more than two years because life has a way of shaking up even the most carefully planned life.

I thought of a snow globe when I pictured what happened to our lives but really, a snow globe is the wrong illustration because in the snow globe, the people stay cemented in place while the snow swirls around them. We did stay in place while the storm swirled around us but eventually, the cement failed us and we shook loose and floated and generally looked at each other in surprise while we waited to land.

Four years. In those four years, I lost a job, started a new job (I’d hope it would be a career), then my husband lost a job and started a new job, so he moved to Minnesota almost a year before I did (along with two of our kids–that’s right, we also emptied half our nest) . . . my dog died, my mom moved out of our home to a new place in Oregon, so I helped her pack and move and unpack, we sold a house, bought a house, moved (I personally packed every box and unpacked every box) . . . and then, when I finally got here, I dropped a ten pound weight on my foot. We waited twenty-six days for the moving truck to get here and then, I got a new job and started working the week after our stuff got here. I am currently working 65 hours a week during the holiday season.

[Oh, also, there was a world-wide pandemic that affected everyone everywhere, but did not cause me to miss a single day of work because I was an “essential” employee. So, no lounging around at home while collecting sweet, sweet unemployment checks with added federal benefits.]

I’m just saying, a lot can happen in four years.

Looking back causes me to shake my head in disbelief. If you told 2017 Mel that her life would be shaken (not stirred) in such a vicious manner, she would have 1) denied the possibility; 2) worried and; 3) cried. Maybe she would have run. Who knows?

But I had no idea at the time, so I just took it one day after the next.

I’m grateful that I can’t see four years into the future because all I want now is for things to just simmer down and stay the same for awhile. (Forever? Let’s not tempt fate.)

Happy Four Year Job Loss Anniversary to me!


Well, what do you know? It’s autumn in Minnesota. The few remaining leaves are hidden under a thin frosting of snow. My neighbors are extraordinarily diligent about raking and mowing up the leaves, so last weekend the neighborhood was alive with the sound of mowers and chainsaws. I did my part toiling with a new rake in my front yard, scraping up the horse chestnuts that are so glossy and beautiful but such a mess to clean up. If you don’t remove them, they’ll sprout into new trees as I discovered last spring.

I’ve been promoted at work and that means this Saturday will be my last Saturday off until January. I’ll be working six days a week, upwards of 50 hours. (I don’t think we’re permitted to work more than 55 hours a week.) Anyway, it’s been an absolute madhouse there. Someone told me I ought to look for a different job, but the truth is that I like the frantic pace and the sequence of the work itself. Sure, I’d like to have more time at home to putter around and create but this season of life is about squirreling provisions for the future and staying physically active.

And it turns out that I really do like this line of work. I thought I did–I had a short-term job in retail a million years about but the pay was terrible then–and I was right.

I fondly think of the days gone by when I was writing every day. Will I ever get to those days again? Will my life loop back around to a familiar landscape?

Time will tell.

But in the meantime, it’s time to get to work.

One Year Later . . .

Stearns County has issued an excessive heat warning for today with heat index values from 105 to 110. From my office window, I see grey skies and tree limbs in constant motion from the wind. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was sweatshirt weather. But that’s my air conditioned cold toes talking.

That’s not me.

We moved a year ago, give or take a day.

The past three or four years have included so much change and so much loss. I’ve had three job changes, just for starters. Two of my children are now living on their own. I left behind the ocean waves in San Diego for the mosquitoes in Minnesota. My beloved dog died. My mother left our home to live in Oregon. We sold one house and bought another. I’ve had COVID (twice, I believe–once before it was popular and then again beginning on Halloween, just for funsies). I injured my Achilles tendon–and it took a whole year to heal. I dropped a 10-pound weight on my other foot and that poor toe still hurts from time to time.

I still don’t know what I own. Did I ditch it in a panic or in a fit of generosity?

I miss my backyard fountain. I miss my backyard! I miss the beach. I miss my kids. I miss succulents and cacti. I miss the trail system by my house. I miss my dog. I miss my job and I miss most of my co-workers. I miss my piano. I miss my giant bathtub. I miss Rubio’s fish tacos. I miss my old routine.

But it’s not all nostalgia. I don’t miss traffic and homeless encampments and crowded parking lots and lengthy lines. I don’t miss heat and the cost of living and wildfires. I have no regrets at all about this move. I wanted to move to Minnesota. This place is a good place for us at this stage of our lives. The people have been beautiful and generous and kind. Our smaller house is cute. (I have to clean out the garage once and for all.)

I just have to get through this last month of dumb summer. I told my husband last night that I’m not a summer person, but then I realized I was a Pacific Northwest Summer Person because the summers there are so amazing.

But heat, humidity and mosquitoes? No, thanks.

Happy One-Year Leaving Everything Behind Anniversary! You survived!

For my records

I have a few minutes before work and wanted to offer my future self a little information about what’s happening right now.

My son the opera singer student is here now for a couple of weeks. He and his twin brother are mostly hanging out in the basement doing whatever grown up brothers do for fun. I think it mostly involves the internet and video games and discussion that sound like arguments but are really just passionate (pointless) conversation.

When my husband picked him up on Thursday night, things went awry. I answered my phone from the bathtub where I was sweating in a hot bath. He told me that the car wouldn’t start and I thought for a split second it was a joke but then it turned out to be a terrible truth. I jumped from the tub to investigate a shuttle from the airport but as it turned out, there is no current shuttle. Though I wasn’t even at the airport, this turn of events ruined my night.

My beloved drives a 2008 Buick, quite proud of his thrift, and so he took that car the 90 minute drive to the airport and while parked in elite parking, it died. This tragedy was overcome by AAA and an Uber. The tow-truck delivered the car to a local mechanic where it still sits, waiting to be fixed. (Please, God, let it not cost an arm and a leg.) The Uber ride code $140.00.

Tomorrow night, I’ll drive my reliable SUV to pick up my daughter. She’ll be here for one week and has hope and dreams of enjoying the lake. I bought a couple of floats so we can . . . well, float.

It will be good to have all four kids under one roof. You can never take these things for granted.

You’ve got a friend in me

I’ve never been one to gather a crowd around me. I don’t have a Friend Group. I never have, really. I might be found on the fringes of a group, but I’m not the ringleader and I’m not the one people follow.

Over a decade ago, I met someone who is the nucleus of her own world. She draws people into her electron shell seemingly without effort.

We met at a writer’s conference. She’d emailed me out of the blue in advance of the conference, reaching out because a blogger she and I knew told her to contact me. The first day, while I was sitting in the dining room with a couple of other friends, she came up and introduced herself. The four of us spent the rest of the conference hanging out and in two subsequent years, shared housing.

I realized the second or third year that the group of us were really just an entourage for her. She was the life. She was the party. I was just attached because I was part of the support crew. I was okay with that.

She mentioned me in the acknowledgements of her first book: “To my writing community–Denise, Shannon, Sarah, Brad, Melodee and Linda. Your words make me want to be better at everything, including life. Keep on, friends.”

When the book was picked up by a major publisher and re-released, that acknowledgement read, “To my writing community–Denise Hildreth Jones, Shannon Primicerio, Sarah Markley, Linda Vujnov, Emily Freeman, Ann Voskamp, Melanie Shankle, Sophie Hudson, Lyndsay Rush, Angie Smith, Amanda Williams, Kelley Kirker, Ellie Holcomb, and the (in)courage writers. Your words make me want to be better at everything, including life. Keep on, friends.”

Wait. What? Was I replaced by Ann Voskamp? I believe I was. My feelings were so hurt. I declared that she was dead to me to my poor husband, the innocent bystander in my drama. But I honestly could not believe that she had flicked me out of her book/life like some kind of useless bug.

I am the most loyal friend you could dream of having. And yet. No room for me in the electron shell.

In college, I made my first friend by virtue of happening to sit near her during a welcoming event. Or maybe it was in the dorm. I’m not sure, but we were instant, giddy friends but poorly matched on every level. She was only 17, cute, confident, tiny and talented but our initial connection fizzled out.

Then I met another friend who ended up being a lifelong connection.

(Except. Except.)

We had long conversations and a deep connection. Once we borrowed a car and drove three hours to surprise the men we were interested in (and actually married later on). After college, I visited her in her new city. We exchanged regular chatty letters and had occasional phone calls. She helped pick out my bridesmaid dresses.

But then at the last minute, she said she couldn’t be in my wedding. I brushed that off, but it stung. Then, she managed to get engaged and planned her wedding on the very same day as one of my other friends–who had already asked me to be in her wedding. So I had to decline. I was so sad.

The years passed. I visited her and her new husband. We continued our regular letters and phone calls. We’d see each other once in awhile. I felt connected to her for so long but recently, I’ve had to admit to myself that while I consider her one of my closest friends, she must consider me an acquaintance because how else do I explain to myself that she does not reach out to me? That past year was incredibly difficult for so many people, but the past two years (maybe even three years) were traumatic for me in a dozen different ways.

Did she call me? Did she email me? Did she notice?

No. But she recently flagrantly posted on social media how much our mutual friend meant to her during the pandemic. She posted pictures of them together and I thought, wow, I am alone. I tried to not feel jealous but what’s the point in ignoring how you actually feel? I felt jealous, bereft, lonely, discarded.

Listen, I know I sound like I’m fourteen and trying to navigate my way through junior high. I get that.

But I just am not sure what is wrong with me. Why do I have such trouble making friends? Why do the friends I have wander off the second we don’t live in the same town? What is an introvert like me to do when she looks around and finds herself utterly alone and wonders why?

It doesn’t help that I have moved from one state to another when I was 33, then again at age 46 and yet again at age 55. Do Not Recommend.

(These are all rhetorical questions. No need to provide answers. I’m just a girl, sitting at my keyboard, trying to not make myself late for work while pondering life’s mysteries.)

Long days, short seasons

I was startled by the starting gun blasting us into summer. Everyone else burst from the starting blocks and I was left in the dust.

Here’s what happened. I was away for ten days until the end of May. During that time, the lilacs bloomed and I missed it. Then I blinked and it was 97 degrees. Minnesotans appeared in their shorts and flip-flops and shoulder sunburns and I am not ready. We had a frost advisory just a few weeks ago and now it’s SUMMER, all caps, hurry up and get to the lake.

I don’t know where my shorts are. I can’t find the nozzle for the hose. I didn’t get the day lilies planted and the ground has turned to rock. The page has turned and I wasn’t quite finished reading that last paragraph.

I suspect real Minnesotans understand that haste is of the essence. They are experts at these transitions. I’m not. Not yet.

But I get it. Summer is fleeting and there’s no time to waste. The growing season is short, after all, and before we know it, the leaves will turn glorious shades and wind gusts will turn them into compostable litter. The snow will swirl and blanket us in frosty drifts. Twilight will arrive in the afternoon and we’ll turn on twinkly lights to cheer ourselves up. The stillness of winter will be upon us.

This was the view from my back deck last night.)

But nevermind that! Like a squirrel hoarding acorns for the winter, Minnesotans are floating on lakes, speeding on jet skis, gliding by on kayaks and seizing the (extremely long) day. (Do you know that the sun sets after 9 PM here in the north? And it rises by 5:30 AM. The days are long!) Every town seems to have its festival. The corn is growing in the fields between here and there. Entire families bicycle past my house.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, you’re going to miss it if you don’t hurry!

That’s how summer feels to me right now.

So today I bought some plants for my back deck. I swept and then used the hose (without the missing nozzle) to wash off the chairs.

The race has begun! (Where are we going?)


I need a popsicle, stat!

What I did on my “vacation”

I flew to San Diego on May 14. My daughter picked me up in the black Fiat that I own, the one I bought on Election Day 2016 with her in mind. She thought I should have picked out the light green one, but the black one had lower mileage.

She timidly drove the dreaded I-15 with its six lanes of heavy traffic (going each way) and then I drove with her to have lunch with my son.

He had planned where we would eat, so off we ventured to an Italian place. We ate outside in a patio, enjoying that mild San Diego weather. Afterward, we dropped him off and headed north, again on the I-15.

Before sunset, we went to the beach where it was a little chilly and watched the sun set. She was cold and my feet hurt (poor shoe choice, what’s wrong with me?) and then we headed back to her home. I wish it had been a spectacular sunset but you don’t get to plan these things.

(This was in Oregon.)

The next day, I met up with former co-workers for breakfast, drove by my old house, stopped by the park with peacocks, went into a couple of stores and them met a friend for lunch before buying travel snacks at Trader Joe’s. I also walked on the beach in Carlsbad. I missed it. I miss the ocean the most.

We started our road-trip the next morning at 6:00 AM, gliding through Los Angeles before the city was even fully awake. My daughter and I traveled in the Fiat and her boyfriend drove his Toyota with his brother as a passenger. (The mother of the boyfriend and her husband drove a camper van with a trailer attached.) We detoured a bit to swing by my daughter’s boyfriend’s dad’s house where they gave me a tour of their 12 acres which includes a vineyard, an assortment of farm animals and a white barn owl perched at the tippy-top of a hundred-year old barn. Even though it was out of our way, I was glad I got to meet them and see their place.

I do love a road trip. This one with my daughter was no exception. My phone wouldn’t charge, so for hours, we couldn’t stream entertainment and just talked instead. We slept that night in a Redding hotel. (I was just glad it was a good hotel because the rest of the crew made reservations at the same place based on my initial choice.)

I had wanted to detour to Crater Lake on the way to Portland but changed my mind that night. I was so tired and didn’t want to add extra time to our second day’s travels. So, we ended up arriving at the apartment the next day at about 4 PM and the trailer had already been unloaded.

The only problem was that the couch would not fit around the corner and through the front door. I immediately declared they’d have to get rid of it and would have admitted defeat but the stepdad would not be deterred. He and the three teens hoisted that thing up over the railing, pulling it up three stories to get it through the patio sliding glass door.

I cowered in a bedroom, not wanting to even hear that effort . . . but they made it seem easy.

We had dinner that night, all of us.

The next day, my daughter and I went to IKEA to buy the bare essentials, including pots and pans and a coffee table. We hunted down a shelf and some other stuff at a few other random stores. I ended my night at 9:30 PM wandering through Fred Meyer in a quest to find an electric mixer so I could bake them chocolate chip cookies. These are the things moms do.

By then, my feet were killing me. Again, extremely poor footwear choices for this trip, so the next morning when I drove out of Portland in the Fiat, I stopped and bought my annual pair of Birkenstocks.

That day I drove solo to my mom’s place on the Oregon coast. I was there overnight, then my daughter and her boyfriend drove over to join us for a day. We walked on the shore and ate delicious food and strolled through the shops and antique mall. They left at the end of the day and I slept over one more night before heading south down the coast.

I haven’t really been back down Highway 101 in Oregon since I rode my bike as a 14-year old from Seattle to San Francisco. This time, I pulled over at every view point and walked along every beach that caught my fancy. I stayed two nights in Garibaldi (think “The Rosebud Motel”) and spent a second day going even farther, down to Newport. It was glorious to be alone with my thoughts, podcasts and silence.

Then it was time to drive back to Portland to spend a little more time with my daughter before going home to Minnesota. We hiked, ate pizza and cookies, and shopped thrift stores. One more night’s sleep and then I had to wake up at 4:30 AM to catch a 7:20 AM flight. (WHY? WHY?)

I was back home on Tuesday and back to work on Thursday and haven’t found my groove quite yet. I’m exhausted when I wake up and not quite sleepy at bedtime but a couple early mornings may have solved that problem.

So tomorrow, back to work.

(Closing thoughts: I wore basically three outfits. I took three or four more outfits that never even made it out of my suitcase. Next time, pack less and bring only comfortable shoes. Why do I even own shoes that hurt my feet?)

Easy Breezy

A chilly breeze reminds us that it’s most definitely still spring here in Minnesota even though the skies are blue and the sun is shiny. I planted daffodil bulbs today in planters because I noticed they were sprouting through the plastic in the bag where I’d left them sitting all winter long in my garage. I have no idea if they will grow because they were neglected and not planted at the correct time. (I KNOW! This is tragic!)

Last weekend, I raked up the horse chestnuts in my front yard and whacked at the hardy prickly weeds growing in my spotty lawn and then sprinkled the bare spots generously with clover seed. My limited research tells me that clover is an awesome ground cover, good for your lawn and excellent for pollinators. Also, it’s a lazy way to a green lawn and I’m all about shortcuts when it comes to lawn care.

I did all that because I saw rain was in the forecast and sure enough, it rained hard for a couple of days. April showers better bring May flowers, is all I have to say about that.

My husband was exposed to COVID, so he’s been quarantined all week. He’s gone to get a test today and hopefully will be negative. He has no symptoms and he had COVID last fall, so we are hopeful. I have already had one vaccine (I’m getting vaccinated because I don’t want to encounter any restrictions–even though I feel like there’s not much point since I already had COVID last fall, but who knows? This is so unprecedented . . . and when I went to Costco to pick up prescriptions, they were able to vaccinate me ON THE SPOT, with no appointment).

Anyway, I can’t wait until this pandemic ends. I’m so tired of wearing a mask all day long, though there is a part of my introverted self that doesn’t mind hiding behind a mask. When I see someone in public without a mask now, I find it so surprising to see an actual face. But really, I am sick of it because it makes me hot and I tend to be overheated in the best of circumstances, so put a mask over my face and my blanket of hair around my head and I’m sweating in no time.

I know. That’s a very attractive visual, isn’t it?

At my job, I am the fabric/sewing department head but also, I’ve been given the responsibility to decorate all the furniture areas in the store (of which there are three main areas). This has been so fun for me. I get to be creative and decide themes for each area and then “shop” in the store and arrange everything. I was originally asked to do one area and apparently they liked my work so now it’s all me. It’s fun.

But also yesterday I built a display and put out Christmas wrapping paper so there’s that. Slow down, you move too fast! You got to make the morning last . . .

That’s all for now.

Spring forward

It’s 46 degrees right now and windy. Spring is here though I haven’t seen anything growing yet. My mom posts pictures from the Oregon coast of rhododendrons and hydrangeas but all I can see are bare branches and brown grass. I have some half-hearted plans to plant stuff this year in this new (neglected) yard. I am going to plant clover in my lawn for starters and I bought a push mower which I still have to assemble.

My work schedule has fallen into a routine. One weekend I will have three days off in a row; the next, only Sunday off. It makes for a long stretch between real time off. This Sunday is Easter and although I have a ham, I have made zero additional preparations. I have some cute Easter decorations which are still in a box in the garage.

While I was growing up, that was a family joke: “It’s in a box in the garage.” Somehow my parents were terrible at unpacking entirely and we just had stuff in boxes in the garage forever. I come from a long line of pack-rats, if truth be told. I personally wrestle with this tendency while my husband would be content to live in a rectangle shaped room with a bookcase and bed, all in the color beige. I like stuff. I like vintage pottery and books galore and funny little objects I find in thrift stores. I like old photos (even of people I don’t know) and thrifted Longaberger baskets. I can’t really help it.

I don’t want to really help it, but I do want to keep my stuff in an orderly fashion and most definitely, not in boxes in the garage. I need to sort through and organize my garage again. I’m in the process of going through every closet and cupboard with a more critical eye now that I’ve been here eight months.

I do have to say that I miss the outdoors. I miss long dusty hikes in San Diego and sticky windy hikes by the beach. I miss the flowers bursting with color everywhere you look in Southern California. I miss the mourning doves that tucked haphazard nests in the eaves above our front door. I am looking forward to getting outside for some long walks in nature. I am more myself when I’ve been outside.

It’s such a strange experience to pack up one’s life in one landscape and unpack it in another. I don’t know that many people have this experience–so many people stay close to home their whole lives. My family, though, has been wanderers, both my family of origin (twenty-five moves by the time I was five years old) and my family of creation. It’s like my former homes are dreams or ghosts or both. Dreamy ghosts.

I think of our house in Washington where we lived for twelve years (1998-2010). The moss that grew on the back patio, the freewheeling laurel hedges that I was constantly pruning, the determined English ivy that threatened to cover our entire yard with its green tendrils. Only a few miles away, the Puget Sound, often gray. The Douglas firs that I worried would fall on my roof during those fierce winter rainstorms. The rain, the fog, the rain.

Then our house in San Diego with its red tile roof and always green grass and swaying palm trees. The sunshine almost every single day. The light in that house–I don’t think I appreciated it enough–but the lack of a real laundry room, so I had a Laundry Hallway that ended in my office on the main floor. I know for a fact that I did not appreciate the gigantic bathtub in that house, nor my enormous closet. I miss them both, desperately.

But I am getting used to taking tiny baths and reducing my wardrobe bit by bit.

I am happy not to be hot all the time and not to worry about termites.

Still. I miss the dusty paths. I miss the ocean waves.

I do not miss traffic nor the crowds at Costco.