Dear everyone,

I have, no joke, three “dear everyone” drafts saved to my folder — I wouldn’t have any problem at all posting twice a week if I’d just hit “publish” and not overthink what I’m sharing. (It’s more a judgement of the words I’m using than the actual sharing part, now that I think about it, but whatever.)

Today’s goal: Just get the words out.

In which I take a trip

Right before Thanksgiving, and despite a looming holiday deadline, I took two and a half days off from work to accompany Eric on a business trip.

So of course, the day before we leave, all hell breaks loose. Which is generally the way it goes. That Monday deadline was awful — we have a new reporter who was still figuring things out and we were late to press. Then I got a phone call from Johanna saying she couldn’t participate in basketball practice because I forgotten to submit her physical release form with her registration. And Bean had some kind of accident and his paw was bloody — we thought maybe he’d lost a claw somehow.

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Still handsome.

So Tuesday was spent running Bean to the vet (he was such a good boy) and learning he had not lost a claw, just had flap lacerations, but stitches and a cone of shame were in order. I picked up Jo’s physical release from the doctor’s office (thank you Eric for calling in the request) and submitted that via the internet (thank you technology). I put in a couple hours at the office before picking Jo up for an appointment and Bean from the vet, then getting Bean home, Jo to practice and myself to first quarter conferences. Um, and then home again to finally pack.

All that was keeping me sane was the thought of that trip. My co-workers were like, Be free, Trisha Walker, which I appreciated because I was feeling guilty about leaving. It’s funny that I can be so burned out but also so hesitant to actually leave. Deep down, I must like my stupid job.

The day of the trip finally dawned. I took a nap on the way and then hung out in our hotel room that evening while Eric had meeting stuff. It felt weird to just … be … after the craziness that had been the week up until that point. I ate the quinoa and chicken I’d packed for dinner and started our Christmas letter. Eric came back eventually and was surprised that I’d used my time on that — I didn’t do anything as far as Christmas cards or letters last year, but this year I’m feeling up to the task. It felt good to write.

The next day was spent walking around town a bit and window shopping, meeting my dear friend Mara for coffee, reading and writing and napping and enjoying the quiet. I wasn’t bored. I was well-supplied with coffee, thanks to my darling husband, who searched it out on my behalf. I had zero responsibilities — no dishes, no laundry, none of my usual home chores — so my only option was to relax. And the lesson I learned was that I CAN relax, I just need to leave town to do it. 😉

Johanna, incidentally, was at my parents’ house, and Bean and company were under my mother-in-law’s care (here’s our sick cat, have fun!). So I didn’t have to worry about that, either. They were all in the best of hands.

In which we celebrate Thanksgiving

We thought Abby wouldn’t be home until the day before Thanksgiving because of her class schedule, but she was able to arrange to take all of her tests on Monday. So our party started a whole 48 hours early. And by “party,” I mean “snuggling on the couch together in a dogpile.”

Also, bonus, she made it home before the snow hit.

On Wednesday, Abby picked Johanna up from basketball practice — no school, but hoops never sleep — and they went to my parents’ house to help my mother with Thanksgiving prep. Later, they came to my office and we walked to the coffee shop together; both girls got a snack and coffee, and then worked on various homework projects. Thank you, free wifi and portable devices!

We were on deadline Wednesday for our Saturday edition. We thought it was end of day and it ended up being 2 p.m. We made it, although I’m still not sure how, and it was awesome because I walked back to the coffee shop around 3 p.m. to hang with the girls. Eric also walked down, so we had a nice family moment. He went back to work and the girls and I did some window shopping before heading back to the house. We had dinner, watched some “Office” reruns and then Abby put on “Mall Cop,” which was surprisingly entertaining. No one probably cares about these details, but it was just so lovely — all my kids under one roof, the fire blazing, just hanging out. That is my kind of evening.

Thanksgiving tends to stress me out, even when I’m not hosting — just crowds and noise, and yeah, it’s family but that’s how my brain is wired. We had a full house at my parents’, with all of my family in attendance, plus Grandma, and another full house at my brother-in-law’s. Now this is love: I couldn’t figure out at first why Mom made baked beans to go with the usual turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing et al., but it turns out Grandma has been in the mood. And she thoroughly enjoyed her serving.

Speaking of love: I STILL don’t have an oven, but Johanna requested a raspberry salad — you know, that 1950s monstrosity with the pretzel and sugar crust, cool whip and cream cheese middle and raspberry jello top — and even though it’s literally the most artificial, terrible creation ever (so much packaging! So few nutrients!), I was determined to make her one. I couldn’t bake the crust so I just packed it in really tight and put it in the freezer. And hey, it worked. She was thrilled, which was all I really cared about.

In which I retrench

The day after Thanksgiving saw me up at 7 a.m., with a goal of being to work around 9. I wanted a nice, easy morning. And I was feeling pretty good about life when I noticed that I couldn’t find my car keys anywhere in the house.

Hmm. I did have a faint memory of putting them in the center console while Eric drove us home after our various celebrations, so I went to the garage to check. A little voice reminded me that sometimes the car locks on its own accord, which would be sort of a disaster because Eric had gotten up early to get a noise checked out on his truck (and go to The Store that Must Not Be Named? Interesting turn of events).

So guess what happened? Yep. There were my keys, clearly visible. There were the doors, clearly locked. I called Eric in a panic, and he directed me to his desk, where he stores the extra keys. I found the one for my car, but it did not work. At all. I was on my knees trying to find the hide-a-key that was somewhere on the vehicle’s exterior, but never could locate it. My options: Wait for Eric to come home and unlock me, wait until Abby went into work for her 10:30 shift, or drive the Zippy Mobile, Abby’s high school ride that was my grandma’s ’88 Honda Civic. You know, the one out in the driveway buried in snow with the crappy tires.

Eh, what could happen?

It took a while to defrost that sucker, but I made it into work by 9:30. This is the kind of thing, honestly, that just throws me off my game. Not how I planned my morning, the need to retrench my expectations, the feeling that the whole day is now shot because this one negative thing happened.

BUT YOU GUYS that was my new year’s resolution in July when I turned 47 — embracing Plan Z! And I’ve had a lot of practice. I’d also figured out the whole “ridiculousness stops the negative mind spirals” trick. So I’m driving Zip, thankful that we have an extra vehicle to get me where I need to go and reminding myself that all I really need to do is be open to the gifts and lessons of the day.

And it was a good day.

In which I end this novel

Um, is anyone still with me?

–TW

Good things

I am beyond heartbroken and stressed and sad and upset and angry and just … things this week in the States have been rough. I can’t stand the news, I can’t stand social media, I can’t take any more negativity.

I just can’t. But the hits just keep on coming.

So today we’re going to talk about good things. Not because things are good — they aren’t. But to remind ourselves that despite all that, there is light. Even if we have to dig really deep to find it.

So here are a few of my good things, in no particular order. And in the comments, I’d like to see yours.

  • This plant
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Mind Flayer at work?

I wrote a story about a local fundraising effort for fistula repair in Uganda, and the woman behind the fundraiser gave me this plant as a thank you. Thank yous are NOT necessary — I’m a reporter, I reported! — but I appreciated the thought and the kindness behind the gift. Abby has claimed it, and I’m also happy about that because plants bring her a lot of joy, and this one will remind her of me when she’s at school. Plus it’s just freaking cool — that droopy flower growth has been two months in the making. Awesome.

  • My grandma
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Grandma Hollywood

Grandma is 95. She came to live by us this past May. She’s seen a lot, she’s done a lot, she has great stories and has had great heartbreak, but she just keeps going. I love being able to stop by and see her. I love hearing her stories and learning about some of the genetic quirks that make me a Trisha (panic attacks, check!). I love that she’s always excited to get a copy of the newspaper and that she reads my articles first. I love how she proudly tells everyone in the halls, “This is my granddaughter, Trisha.” Grandma kicks ass, you guys, and she’s right down the road. I haven’t had relatives closer than 2 hours away since I was 9. This time with Grammie is such a gift.

  •  My laptop
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Freida on the deck — that’s my parents’ 1970s card table she’s resting on.

Freida, born of anger and fire, has proven to be a beacon of peace and calm. Wow, that sounds dramatic. Here’s her origin story: I purchased this ol’ girl from an office supply store about a year and a half ago because I wanted the freedom to get out of my office and write, say, in a coffee shop. (Freida is derived from freedom. I wish I’d have been clever enough to come up with that, but it was Eric.) Freida and I have written in those coffee shops, on park benches, on the deck, in my parents’ backyard and in hospital waiting rooms. I lug her around every day in my backpack and, while she’s heavy and clunky, she’s worth it. Freida gets me out of the office, but more than that, she gives me the gift of possibility.

  • Coffee

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I made my 57,000th batch of iced coffee Monday night (method HERE — although now I use a gallon of water, 1/4 pound of ground coffee and let that sit upwards of 12 hours) and was reminded that there is such simple pleasure in grabbing a cup, filling it with ice and cold coffee, topping that mother off with lots of half and half, and heading to the deck to read or write. I don’t have a lot of food pleasures because my stomach is a jerk, but I do have coffee. Thanks, magic beans!

  • All my kids under one roof
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An old photo, but a good photo. And very indicative of their personalities.

It seems like just yesterday that Abby came home from college for summer vacation, and now we’re looking at roughly one more week with her here before taking her back. Johanna is pretty sure we can just lock the door and she’ll have to stay. Seems like a solid plan. I’ll report back on how that works. Although actually … we are in a good place. It’s exciting to see both girls spreading their wings and figuring out where they want to go. I mean, yeah, I would like to go back to when they were younger and I didn’t have to rely on apps to communicate, but I don’t know if I would wish for that because … well. You can’t stunt them, right? Isn’t this what we’ve been working towards? Those wings? Well, whatever, we’ve had a great summer and I have thoroughly enjoyed having both girls under my roof. They’re fantastic. And yes, I am biased, why do you ask?

All right, my lovely internet friends: Your turn.

P.S. Happy birthday, Shannon! Your list is coming …

How to tell if the Walker Four are all under one roof

  • There are no glasses in the cupboard.
  • The food you thought would last the week actually lasts until Tuesday.
  • You try to go to sleep but end up having a slumber party until Mom gets cranky about being pushed off HER OWN BED.
  • Constant chatter.
  • Art supplies everywhere.
  • Requests for gas money.
  • More laundry.
  • We watch an extraordinary amount of The Office reruns.
  • More kids in and out of the house.
  • More schedules to coordinate.
  • General chaos.
  • I’m at my happiest.

🙂

Family gathering

I’m sitting by the woodstove in a rocking chair with Frieda my laptop this evening. The living room is littered with sleeping kittens. It’s COLD and rainy outside, but inside is rather pleasant. It feels nice to be so content.

This past weekend was the annual Walker family gathering. I’ve written about this before many times, which isn’t surprising, I guess, since this year was our 22nd. Basically: Instead of getting together and exchanging gifts for Christmas, we rent a house and hang out over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. It is AWESOME. I’ve always thought this was rather genius, even before we became minimalists, because it’s experiences, not things — and my girls have such fun memories of time with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins … and now their cousins’ spouses/significant others and kids.

Anyway: A house at the coast (on a lake, I think that’s hilarious for some reason) stuffed with 24 people (we were down four this year, including Abby), lots of chat and games and running around. I highly recommend it.  And props to Johanna for being on kid duty all weekend. Four boys under the age of 6! I’m sure you can imagine what THAT is like. (Hint: Loud.)

Before we left, I made myself a few dinners because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat what was served to the group. And that worked out just swell, as Johanna would say — because I had something available, I wasn’t even tempted to eat any of the good stuff around me (cookies, sure, but also just the delight that is taco soup or a potato bar). Which is probably why I feel fairly decent at the moment.

Maybe I can be taught?

I also brought along my beloved breakfast granola. I’ve had to modify it since I first wrote about it on the Simple Year (swirl around 10 dried pitted dates, 10 dried pitted apricots, a generous shaking of cranberries  and a handful of walnuts in the food processor; add a couple handfuls of oats and a couple heaping spoonsful of sunflower seed butter, swirl around again until it looks like something you could call granola), but it’s kept me alive for literally three years, so … amazing.

And I don’t know, but it was sort of relaxing to just mess around all weekend and do nothing productive. I didn’t even read. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

A very minimalist summer

The calendar is telling me that I have less than a month left with Abby at home before she heads back to college … and I am so grateful that it’s THIS year and not last, when we were all so sad with the prospect of her leaving. This year, she knows what to expect. She has a class schedule she’s excited about. She has friends. She knows the ins and outs of campus.

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Vacation patio views.

And we all know that it’s okay that she leaves because she will come back. It’s been wonderful having her home, but she has a life that she needs to lead and experiences she needs to have … not here. She’s looking forward to going back — which makes it so much easier to let her go.

That’s not what I wanted to write about at all! I see the words are doing what they want this morning.

Here’s what I planned to write about: This has been a very minimalist summer and I could not be happier.

I have purposely kept the calendar light with the intent of enjoying the simple pleasures that come with an Oregon summer: Reading on the deck, taking walks around the neighborhood, spending time with family, picking blueberries in the garden, lots of coffee, meals outside on the porch (or in the park across the street from my office), going to the farmers’ market and weekend naps. I’ve been working on setting boundaries and pacing myself — not trying for 24/7 productivity — and I’ve found this has greatly helped my general state of mind.

I’m having fun. I’m balancing what needs to be done with what I want to do. I’m putting what’s important to me (family, health, creative pursuits) at the forefront and letting the rest take care of itself.

What’s helped me do this: I wrote a journal entry about my best memories from summers’ past. From there, I made a list of realistic summertime pleasures I could fit into everyday life (so basically everything I listed above). It’s not going to win any prizes for excitement, but I do feel like I’ve been able to enjoy my favorite season this year instead of watching it slip by.

“It feels like summer,” Johanna said yesterday afternoon as we sat on the porch. Totally agree, kid. This is the best summer we’ve had in years.

P.S. We just got back from our annual trip to Sunriver — another tourist trap of a town — where we spent lazy days reading on the deck, taking walks and visiting coffee shops. It was fantastic. And I’ve been working to incorporate vacation vibes into daily life now too, fresh off this particular experience.

I’ve read several articles on how the key to a simple life is to accept where you are, work with life’s natural rhythms and stay in the present. And I believe that’s true. Right now, I’m on the cusp of turning 46 (my birthday is Thursday) with one kid halfway out the door and the other starting eighth grade, working fulltime and living in the most beautiful area ever (not that I’m biased). I cannot be everything to everybody, including myself, but instead of raging against the machine, I fight the battle of just one day and accept what I have to work with in the moment.

I don’t know, that sounds maybe too simple, but on the other hand, I’m not sure why it has to be hard. 😉

Here’s hoping you’re having a great summer, too!

Hell Yeah!

Fridays are deadline days at the office, and come Friday afternoon, I’m usually just done — which is fine, since as long as I get my hours in during the rest of the week, I’m good to ditch out early (assuming I have no evening assignments). I go home — or to acupuncture, if it’s appointment day — and SIT DOWN.

And I do not get up.

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I mean, why WOULD I get up, now that I think about it?

But Friday, I found myself … well, I was tired, but not so tired. Johanna was home sick from school — she has my stomach, although hers manifests in throwing up, poor dear — and I left as soon as I was able. Nothing like announcing your kid puked overnight to have your coworkers usher you out of the office in record time. 😉

Because we’ve been able to dial back our 24/7 fire coverage, and maybe because deadline actually went smoothly, when I sat down, I realized that I didn’t need to stay seated. I took a break, chatted with Jo, petted kittens and looked around my rather thrashed house.

I give myself a couple hours to food prep, I thought, why not a couple hours to cleaning?

So I got up. I cleaned my kitchen, I picked up the living room, I swept and vacuumed and cleared clutter areas.

Eric came home and about fell over. This was very non-Trisha-like behavior. By 5 p.m., I had the house licked and looking fantastic. I was able to read, chat with my girls (one in person and one through the magic of technology), pet kittens, and generally enjoy my evening.

And when I woke up Saturday morning, I saw this …

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I told you my house is small.

… and was deeply grateful that I had made the decision I had the afternoon before.

Bonus: When my house is clean, the family tends to try to keep it clean. When the house is a mess, it’s like there’s no holds barred, so projects get left on the table, dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor … you get the idea.

I have no idea if I will feel like cleaning this coming Friday afternoon. I don’t even know if I want to make this a habit. I really hate cleaning, it’s so boring. But Saturday was calm and easy.

Hell yeah!

Evacuation level 1

Let’s see: School was let out early Thursday because of worsening air conditions. The smoke was so thick in the valley that we could smell it inside. We’re under a boil water order. (Not fire related, just aging infrastructure.) School is canceled for today because of said air quality and boil water order. (School started Sept. 5 and we’ve already missed two days.) The sheriff’s office issued new evacuation zone notices and we’re included. But we’re right on the cusp and I still can’t believe it will actually reach us. My editor was out sick Thursday, so it was eight straight hours of trying to stay on top of all of the updates that kept rolling in. Trying to deal with both print and online versions of stories, most of which affect you personally, is kind of a trip. You’re both detached and involved, analytical and emotionally invested. It’s exhausting.

Although our publisher brought us big coffees to “keep morale up,” so that was awesome.

I left work, knowing Johanna was already home in that evacuation zone (level 1 is just “get ready,” so no real threat, but she is my baby) and under that boil water order. My anxiety level was starting to ratchet up, so I made a couple of quick decisions: I was going to the store, and I was going to buy bottled water. And ice cream.

After work is a pleasant time to go for groceries because you can be there with 47,000 of your closest friends. I got the ice cream first because priorities, and then wandered around looking for the water section. Since I never buy water, that took a bit of detective work.

Here’s what I found:

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I guess I should have seen this coming.

Just then, an employee whose name I should know because I’ve been going to this store since I was 9 wheeled out a cart of water bottles — you know, the 24 in shrink wrap kind. And I was like, sigh. 

That is not what I wanted to do. But I did it.

Then I waited patiently in line. Then I drove home.

When I got home, I was like, Jo, let’s cuddle!, so we hung out and talked about our respective days and how a level 1 isn’t that big of a deal, just that we need to start thinking about possibilities. Johanna decided she wants to save her sketch books, pens, American Girl doll and box of cards, and that we should save Abby’s too. I voted for my Kindle and iPod and baby books. We laughed at how all three cats are going to hate being stuck in the same carrier, and devised a way to save her fish as well.

And then we had dinner.

Eric came home and saw the bottled water, and listened to me rant and rave about my day (coffee! No break! Evacuation notices!), and then was like:

We’re not in Texas.

We’re not in Florida.

We have a house and food.

We’re not flooded.

We’re not in the eye of a hurricane.

We’re just on the cusp of an evacuation zone.

And we’ll probably get the all clear on the water tomorrow.

And this is not a crisis.

And I was like:

Oh.

And then I felt slightly better.

So the moral of all of this is that things are terrible, but I guess they’re not that terrible. Perspective is everything.

I am just so, so sick of smoke and fire and alerts and updates and simmering anxiety about it all. I said after last winter that I wouldn’t complain this summer when it got hot, and now I guess I have to promise myself not to complain this winter when it gets cold.