Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bear With Me

“I did it!  I actually did it!”  My husband had been sitting quietly tinkering on his iPad just before jumping up and sharing his news that morning about four years ago.  We were sitting in his mom’s cozy kitchen in Northern California.  I was newly pregnant with Annalee, fighting down nausea as I got the kids their breakfasts.

“What’s that, honey?” I asked.

Matt’s eyes shone and his face bore the hugest smile.  “I got us reservations at Curry Village!!  You know the tents in Yosemite?  We’re finally staying there! Tonight!  I got a reservation for two nights!”

“Oh,” I stalled, trying to muster some enthusiasm.  “Wow...  Can you cancel?”

“Why would I want to?  I’ve wanted to stay there since I was a little boy!  Every time we’ve visited California since we moved away, I’ve tried to get reservations but have never been able to!”  

This was true.  Matt had grown up with regular trips to Yosemite but had always stayed in the “housekeeping cabins” which are best described as “spartan.”  Curry Village, row upon row upon row of white “glamping” tents with beds, was the Promised Land he’d never been able to reach.  Yes, he’d tried every summer when we were back in California to stay there.  He’d gloomily report to me that he had once again failed to get reservations, and I’d reply, “Ohhhh, darn.  That’s too bad.”  And that night as I snuggled into my bed — usually at a relative’s home, or a nearby cabin or hotel with the important feature of climate control and attached bathrooms, I’d smile to myself and whisper a prayer of thanks that we weren’t in Curry Village.

Because here’s the thing: camping there had never appealed to me,  I’ve done my fair share of roughing it.  I camp— and yes, to a degree, I enjoy it — but I’ve also stayed in all sorts of accommodations with my parents.  I’ve stayed in places with cockroaches crawling around, rats in the bathroom, bathrooms down the hall, even bathrooms outside (and that adventure almost cost me my life).  But my beef with Curry Village is that it always reminded me of a refugee tent city.  And I’m not saying I’m too good for that, but when they charge $90 a night... Why would I want to pay to spend the night in a canvas “room” where I can hear the neighbors snoring?  No, thank you.

“Well,” I countered, “it’s just that we didn’t really bring any cold weather clothes because I thought  we’d agreed we weren’t going to go into the mountains on this trip.”  We were living in Hawaii at the time.  “And wasn’t there just a Hanta virus outbreak?”

“That was ages ago.  It’s October!  It’s not going to be that cold!  Anyway, no, I can’t cancel.  If we don’t stay there, we forfeit the $90.”  (He knew he could get me by appealing to my bargain-hunting nature.). “You can make it one night at least, and I bet you’ll love it.”

And so it was that we arrived late that afternoon.  Since Curry Village is in Yosemite Valley, the sun had already dipped behind the surrounding mountains, and darkness was coming on quickly.  Matt went to check in, and I noticed there were actual bear traps — the humane, catch-and-release kind — in the parking lot.  I’ve been to Yosemite many, many times, and I had never seen that before.

 Moreover, there were warning signs posted everywhere.  This was at the height of the California drought, and I forget the precise wording but the signs said something like, “Due to extreme drought conditions, bears are starving and may eat children and their pregnant mothers.”  It was like they didn’t want us there.

We tried to find food, and discovered that, as it turned out, this was the first day of “the off season” — meaning all the restaurants were closed.  Ah, now it made a little more sense how Matt had been able to get a reservation on such short notice.  We had PB&J sandwiches with us and supplemented that with carrot sticks, corn chips, bean dip and the queso that comes in a little can, all purchased at the convenience store.  As I was in line to check out, I heard — I’m not kidding — the following conversation.

Woman in front of me:  The bears are completely crazy this year, huh?  (I whisper silent prayer that she’s talking about a sports team.)

Cashier: Yeah, you heard about that attack last week?  (Ugh, not a sports team.) The woman attacked  in her tent? (Stomach drops.)  Do you know why they think it happened?

Woman: No, why?

Cashier: Her mascara. (Woman and I are both so wide-eyed, our mascara-rimmed eyeballs might actually fall out of our heads.) Yup.  They found a tube in her tent, and they think that’s what he was after.  Gotta lock up all your toiletries in the bear boxes.  Everything.  It’s so important. 

I reported the story to Matt.  “What did she have in her mascara?!” he said.  “Peanut butter?!”  

Skyler, who is typically our most intrepid kid, leading us in adventures whenever we start to balk, sounded on the verge of tears as she said, “Maybe we should just go and stay in town.  I saw some hotels with vacancy signs in Mariposa.”

“No!”  Matt was emphatic.  “We’re staying here!  I’ve always wanted to do this.  Can’t you guys just try to enjoy it?”

We wanted to because we love him, but... well, it actually was cold even if it was October.  The temperature plummeted to just above freezing.  I put on every article of clothing I had and still couldn’t fight the chill. There were three full-size beds with sheets and a thin, scratchy blanket.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law, who heard what we were doing, had loaned us three sleeping bags.  As she and Matt loaded them into the trunk that morning, I saw her whisper something to him.

“What?” I’d asked, and they had responded “Nothing!” in such perfect unison that I was very suspicious.  I later found out she’d told him how awful her experience had been staying there. 

If you’re thinking it was a terrible night, you’re only partially right.  It was so bad, I can only think of a few scenarios that would have made it worse, and they mostly involve axe murderers.  

My stomach, already tumultuous from pregnancy hormones, was churning.  I got my dinner down and hoped it would stay there because the bathroom was a good two hundred yards from our tent.  We made one last stop there before we crawled, shivering, into bed.  Matt and Wyatt were in one bed, Lilly and Jayna in another, and me and Skyler in the third.  The sleeping bags must not have been rated to freezing temperatures because the cold seeped in from all sides.  Since  we needed some icing on the cake, one of the neighbors in the next tent passed gas loudly.  “GROSS!” I stage-whispered.  We were paying $90 a night for this?!

I finally drifted into a hypothermic sleep for a few hours but as is known to happen, especially when you’re pregnant, I woke needing to go to the bathroom.  My chivalrous husband agreed to accompany me on the trek, and we slipped out into the darkness.  We were almost there when — would you believe? — right in front of us, was a bear.  My heart and body froze as the bear lumbered toward us, and Matt whispered, “How close should we let it get before we run?”  It looked at me and roared, so I yelled,, “Run! Now!”  I headed for the dumpster and scrambled on top of it, because that’s the obvious best choice when you’re trying to escape a bear.  Climb on top of a veritable feast locked in a metal box.  Slather yourself in honey for good measure.  

The bear was swiping at my legs as I screamed in terror.  And somehow, through it all, I heard my husband’s calm and steady voice.  “Joy.  Hey, Joy.  JOY!  Wake up!!”  

It had just been a dream — terrifyingly realistic enough for me to whisper to Matt in my grogginess, “Thank you.  You just saved my life. A bear was attacking me,”

“That explains it,” he said, and I could hear a hint of laugher in his voice.  The fog of sleep was clearing, and I realized that our gassy neighbors and actually pretty much everyone for probably a mile around was now awake and murmuring about what the heck that noise had been.  And then I remembered that when I “scream” or talk or yell in my sleep, it’s not an actual screams or words.  It’s more like the voice of the undead: “UhhhhuuUuuuUUUUHhhhhhhh!”  Our neighbors were probably trying to convince themselves it wasn’t the start of the zombie apocalypse.  

Matt and I had a huge fit of giggles.  Our kids woke up, and we all really did need the bathroom.  The only thing more terrifying than my dream was having to actually go out there and see everything just as it had been — minus, thankfully, the bear.  

1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (ESV). Call me crazy, but I think of that night every time I read that verse.  It’s hard to say who bore or endured more hardship — me in my half-frozen, nauseous state, him with his delirious wife.  It’s me going along with his spur-of-the-moment ideas and him taking me to the world’s largest IKEA on a Saturday (yep, he really just did that!).  I guess love is no tally marks, no merit badges, just a dance with many complicated steps of give and take.

We dozed off and on for the next few hours, and at the first light, Matt started packing.  “Come on, guys,” he said, “we’re not doing this again.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever loved him so much.  

When he got in the car after checking out, I asked, “Did we have to pay for the second night?”  Matt shook his head.  “Nope.  She refunded it, no questions asked.”  As we drove out of the parking lot, he added, “It might have had something to do with you being a crazy woman screaming in the middle of the night.”

I laughed. “You’re welcome.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Watching, Reading, Wearing, Eating: Summer ‘18

Labor Day has passed, and just like it has the past two summers, the end of August has brought the most pleasant changes to the weather.  I’m writing this with all the windows and sliding doors open, feeling a breeze through the house keeping the temperature just perfect.  

I haven’t stopped doing editions of WRWE!  I just had, well, a kind of crazy summer, so I’ve decided to wrap it all up in a seasonal post for at least this edition.  So here’s what I’ve been Watching, Reading, Wearing, and Eating during Summer 2018.


To my happy surprise, my kids have reached a maturity level (or maybe an ability to completely zone out in front of their own screens for epic amounts of time) that has allowed me to start watching movies on long haul flights again!  This summer, most of what I watched was on a 777 traversing the Pacific, and it brought a tiny bit of pleasure to the pain of sitting in an economy seat for thirteen hours.  I watched Jumanji (my kids’ recommendation), Black Panther (finally!), A Trip to Spain (ummm, okay), and Bridget Jones’s Baby (hilarious). Outside of flying metal tubes, I also watched I Can Only Imagine and The Quiet Place.  Both were excellent in completely different ways.  But the surprise-best movie I’ve watched this summer was The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society.

You already know I loved this book so much, and movies are almost never as good as the book.  So when I found out they were making a movie of it, I narrowed my eyes and snarled, “How dare they!” But then I saw Melanie Shankle of Big Mama recommending it on Instagram and thought, Well, I can try it... I guess (*eye roll*).  It is very different from the book — since it’s an epistolary novel (story written through letters), it has to be.  But it was handled in an excellent way, one that didn’t detract from the narrative.  Plus, the scenery and costumes alone are reason to watch it.  It falls into the tiny category of movies that were at least almost as good as the books.  


This is probably the main reason I’m writing this post.  I read a lot of not-great books this summer.  Some I didn’t bother finishing; others that I did finish aren’t worth telling you about.  But there was one exception that has me all but shouting, “Read this book now!”  (Okay, if we were chatting in person, I might actually do that!)  And that is Jennifer Fulwiler’s fantastic memoir One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Pursuing Them Both.

I started following Jennifer’s blog for eight or nine years ago and have loved her stories and observations.  I cheered when her first memoir Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It was published.  It was so interesting and enlightening.  But this book? I loved it even more!

Here’s why you need to read it.  First, it is just so good — entertaining, engaging, insightful.  Like I said, I was familiar with this part of her story — or at least I thought I was.  But I found myself still riveted by the narrative, anxiously turning the pages.  I kept having to tell myself, “Calm down, Joy, you know how this ends!”  As it’s been said though, many times in different ways, the ending doesn’t matter as much as how you get there, and this book once again proved that.

Second, this book is one of those that breathed life into me.  As I read the story of Jennifer trying to get a writing career established while having and raising six kids, I felt like she was sitting down with me over tea — or no, actually, chips and salsa at a Mexican restaurant in Austin, where she lives — telling me, “You can do this, Joy” about my ideas.  Not only did she deal with all the “normal” crazy that comes with having six kids, she dealt with a life-threatening blood clot disorder during her pregnancies.  I mean, that honestly makes my life seem a little tame!

She refers to author Steven Pressfield and what he calls “Resistance” — all the things that get in the way of what we want to do, and do well, in her words “this entity that hates creation and wants only destruction.”  She speaks of the lies she has told herself — which I could relate to frighteningly well — and says, “And, as with all effective lies, there was a grain of truth: I wasn’t the best.”  She writes, “...A shocking truth came to my mind.  I tried to dismiss it as an overstatement, but it kept ringing in my soul: Maybe Resistance is trying to stop women from changing the world.”

Third, and maybe most crucial, she has a chapter — yes, a whole chapter! — entitled “Poopocalypse”.  This shows, I think, that she is my kind of people, and this is a book you need to read.  I would probably have a chapter called this too, though my story would be about the toilets in our house in Hawaii that may have been possessed.  They would not only have occasional flushing issues, they randomly regurgitated business in a manner not unlike the girl spewing vomit in Poltergeist.  I think almost every member of my family plus a few guests experienced the “treatment”.  The fact that Jennifer has this chapter in her book made me wonder if one of the things that ties us together as humans is that maybe we all have a story we’d call “Poopocalypse.”  

This such an excellent book. Get it and read it soon. Your heart and soul with thank you.


Okay, I’ve talked before about Karina dresses.  But it’s been a while, and my appreciation has only grown.  They are made in America, and I especially love wearing them in the summer, because they are so breezy and comfortable, and they dry quickly even without a dryer.  Here’s just a couple pictures of me wearing them over the past year.

(You know how important this has been to me!). Back in the spring, I got an email that their new collection had arrived, and I was perusing it late at night when I saw this beautiful dress. 

 But I was tired and wanted to ask Matt if he’d consider getting it as a Mother’s Day present, and he was already asleep.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who loved it and when I checked the website the next day, it had already sold out!  

A few days later, I saw the dress on Karina’s Instagram and commented how I loved it but it was not available so would they be restocking it?  They replied that it had been sent to a few boutiques, and they’d try to track one down for me! Not long after, they found a one such place — Amelia in Portland — that would sell it to me.  I was shocked and thrilled.  The dress hadn’t yet come in, but when it did, Amelia  messaged me and had this on their website.  

You guys, this is what is SO GREAT about small businesses, and especially Karina dresses.  They actually work for your business.  They’re ethical, and they don’t pull any dirty tricks.

Anyway, these pictures do not do the dress justice at all.  My “fancy” camera battery is dead, and since I just moved in, I can’t find the charger.  I had worn this to church and was already wearing communion that Wyatt had knocked on me, plus Thai food from lunch that I’d spilled on myself.  And since I wanted to share this story and rave about them in this post, I figured these phone pics and my awkward “modeling” were as good as it was going to get.

But please check them out.   If you’re one of my male readers and not into wearing dresses yourself, remember they make great gifts too for any woman you care about. And if you’re a woman, give yourself the gift of one of these. You’ll thank yourself! ;-)


Honestly, nothing to report here in the way of great new recipes because we’ve been in survival mode for quite a while, it seems.  I’ve spent the past two weeks unpacking and putting things away, and before that we were living in a one-bedroom apart-hotel, and before that, we were traveling all summer.  But there are two big differences here since our move.  First, there’s a Thai food place in this town that offers vegetarian selections happily without looking at you like you’re crazy.  They already say as we sit down, “You don’t need the menu, right?” Bliss.

Also, for the first time in two years, I have frozen pizza and frozen yogurt and ice cream in my freezer.  I know this doesn’t say the best thing about nutritional choices maybe, but you guys!  We didn’t live near enough to a commissary to be able to buy these before.  As with the dryer, life feels so much better and easier!


Your turn now!  What are you watching, reading, wearing, and eating?  Also, bonus question: what’s your favorite kind of frozen pizza?  And bonus bonus question: why ice cream or sweet treat is always in your fridge?  

And if you dare, share your own Poopocalypse story... ;-)