Archive for Life

Life

Breaking Habits

I will confess to being a bit of a creature of habit. I don’t know how much of that is stubbornness and liking routine and how much is because once I find something that works I don’t see a reason to change it. That can sometimes mean I get stuck in a rut or don’t realize when things have changed so that this isn’t the best thing for me now. I’ve found a good example of that in the past couple of weeks.

When I first started working from home for my public relations job more than 20 years ago, I got in the habit of watching the local midday news on TV while I ate lunch. That kept me on a good schedule, since the news was on at noon, and they did the health news usually starting around 12:25 (I was still doing some medical writing then). That meant if I turned on the TV at 12:25, I could catch the health news, then the bottom-of-the-hour repeat of the top stories at 12:30 and get the weather forecast, along with any entertainment news that they put at the end, and I’d be back to work at 1.

Then about four years ago they moved the midday news to 11, which didn’t fit my lunch schedule. I got the bright idea to set a season recording on my DVR, and then I could start lunch whenever I wanted and forward past commercials or any stories or segments I didn’t care about. This meant I ended up spending more time, since I was often watching the whole newscast instead of half of it, and I wasn’t keeping to a steady schedule anymore. But I never questioned whether I needed to make any changes.

Until a couple of weeks ago. My DVR runs on Android TV, and Google did its usual thing of discontinuing an application, rendering the device that runs on it useless. The application that gives the program information is no longer updated, so the DVR season recordings don’t work. It can get the program info for the channel it’s set on, so a couple of hours before something comes on you can manually set a recording. It finally occurred to me to wonder why I should bother. I read the newspaper and then I watch the national and local news in the evening. I don’t need to repeat the same news throughout the day. I’ve started watching videos on writing, history, and other things that are moderately educational while I eat lunch, and after two weeks I already don’t miss the news at all. I’m learning something, am less stressed (without all the doom and gloom from the news), and I’m spending less time on my lunch break. The TV station has most of the individual segments on their app and YouTube channel, so I can get the weather report or anything else I want to see without watching the whole newscast.

So far, I’ve already gone through a series of writing workshops and a few history documentaries. Or, if it’s a nice day, I take my lunch outside and just read. I guess I could bring out my tablet and watch videos outside while I eat lunch. I feel rather liberated by removing this bit of routine. I suppose this means I should look at other things I could change, but I don’t want to shock my system too much.

Life

Holiday Resistance

It’s the time of year when I usually gripe about not being ready for the holidays. I may be better about that this year since I got to experience actual autumn in October this fall by going to Virginia (and driving through the mountains of Tennessee on the way). I think a lot of my holiday resistance usually has to do with it finally feeling like fall here around Thanksgiving, so I don’t get to experience the autumn vibes before the holiday stuff hits.

But I’m still not ready for all holidays, all the time. The trees just started turning fall colors, which makes it hard to make the mental switch. The classical radio station I usually keep on in my office switched to all holiday music the day after Thanksgiving, and I’m not up for that. I’d have preferred a more gradual transition, like start with most of their usual programming and then add in some holiday pieces, increasing the proportion of holiday content as the season progresses. As it is, I’m already sick of some of the holiday pieces not quite a week in, with me just listening while I eat breakfast, read in bed at night, and drive. I can’t listen to Christmas music while I work. Most of that music has words that I know, so even if it’s instrumental my brain tries to sing along, which distracts me from work. Even worse, I’ve performed a lot of the music, so it catches my attention even more.

On the other hand, I rack up the score on the little “six degrees of classical music” game I play when listening to the radio. I get points for a piece I’ve performed, a piece I’ve seen live in concert, a recording I own, or a performer (individual artist, conductor, or group) I’ve seen in person. As a veteran choir member, I’ve performed a ton of Christmas music. I get a lot of points from John Rutter. I’ve sung most of his Christmas music and have seen him conduct in person, and I have his Christmas album, so I own most of the recordings they use on the radio, which gives me triple points. I’ve sung Messiah. They play a lot of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas stuff, and I’ve been at a choir workshop with the former director who’s the conductor for most of their recordings and have been conducted by him, so I get points there. They play a lot of things by ensembles I’ve seen in person, like the Dallas Symphony, Boston Pops, Turtle Creek Chorale, and Baltimore Consort (and I have their Christmas album, so double points). But all that means I can’t listen while I work. My brain zooms in on the music and puts words to it, which clashes with the words I’m trying to create in my head.

Our neighborhood tree lighting is this weekend, and I may go to that, which could help me kick off the season, and then I may get around to putting up my own decorations. I’ve told myself I’m taking a staycation when I finish the book I’m working on, and then I’ll really indulge in the holiday vibe. I’m putting together a “bucket list” of local holiday things I want to do in what may be my last holiday season in this area. Next year, I may be in an entirely different place. The seasons seem to line up better there, so maybe I’ll be more ready for the holidays next year.

Life

A Week of Adventures

I’m more or less back to work after a big Thanksgiving adventure, but then there was a follow-up adventure that threw this week out of whack.

Thanksgiving week, I drove to my parents’ house in East Texas (about a 2-hour drive from where I live). Then on Tuesday, I drove my parents in their car (bigger, nicer, and more comfortable than mine) to Houston to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Then Friday morning, I drove us back to my parents’ house, and then I drove home on Saturday. I got to hang out with my brother and his dog, see his house, and spoil his dog. I got lots of good puppy cuddles and ate a lot of good food. The good/bad was that I didn’t get any Thanksgiving leftovers since it wouldn’t have been a great idea to transport them for that long a trip. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of turkey, but it was nice not to have to worry about getting sick of it. I certainly ate enough on the day itself.

Driving my parents’ car gave me a sharp contrast to my car, which is nearly 16 years old, the bare basic model, and with a stick shift. My parents were getting concerned about me driving such an old car, even though it didn’t have too many miles on it. I know if I go through with moving to the mountains, I’ll need a new car. I doubt mine would survive the trip or manage all the hills in Staunton. I’d been researching cars ever since that trip. It looked like about half the cars in the town were Subaru Foresters, so I figured that was a good place to start. I’d read all the reviews and had started doing some online shopping, but the only cars in my budget were used and had more miles on them than my car had.

Until I was scrolling through the dealer sites over the weekend and saw exactly the car I wanted, low mileage, and at a good price. It was even the color I wanted. It felt like it was meant to be. I checked with the dealer Monday morning, went in for a test drive that afternoon, and decided to go for it. I picked it up this morning. It’s a lease return, which explains the relatively low mileage, and it’s one of the fancier trims, so it has all the fancy bells and whistles. For life in the mountains, it’ll be especially handy to have all-wheel drive, a special mode for driving on ice/snow/mud, and heated seats. I’ll have to get used to rolling a window down with the touch of a button instead of cranking, and it will be an adjustment to drive an automatic transmission after driving a stick shift ever since I was 18, though I did get some practice on my trip to Virginia and on the trip to Houston, so I’m not quite as rusty.

Now that I have all that excitement out of the way, I’m hoping I can settle down and concentrate more on work.

Oh, and I even got one of those cheesy big, red bows like they have in all the car commercials.

A blue Subaru Forester with one of those big, cheesy red bows on the hood and a smiling woman who just bought a car.
It’s not a brand-new car, but it’s new to me, and I even got one of those big, red bows.
Life

Scattered

I’ve been really distracted this week, doing the thing where I stare at the screen and am a million miles away even though I know what I want to write next. Random things pop into my head, and I find myself following mental rabbit trails. I know part of it is because I have a lot of stuff to think about right now, like getting ready for a big Thanksgiving trip and making decisions about where I may spend the rest of my life and whether to move halfway across the country. But mostly, this sort of thing happens when my brain knows that the thing I’m planning to write is all wrong and I need to figure out the right thing.

And that turned out to be the case. I was stuck on a scene I had planned. I had it all outlined, had seen the “movie” in my head, and yet I couldn’t seem to make myself write it. Every time I sat down to try to write it, my brain would get distracted by random things and I couldn’t focus. Last night, I gave up and sat down with a pen and paper to see if I could outline the rest of the book and add more detail to that scene so it would be easy to write. That was when I realized that the scene doesn’t belong in the book at all. Not only does it not really add anything to the story, but it would change things for the next part I had planned, and that was why I was having trouble outlining that part.

The writing went a lot easier this morning when my brain agreed with me that I was on the right track. I should make a note of that. If I can’t seem to focus, if my brain wants to do absolutely anything but write, I need to look at what I’m planning to write and see if it really belongs in the book. Sometimes, I feel like my brain tries to get me out of the way so it can work things out without my conscious interference. It’ll send me searching for recipes for some dish I had once and have a sudden craving for or looking up books in the library’s collection or other kinds of busy work that suddenly seems urgent, and when that’s done and I get back to writing, I suddenly know exactly what I need to do.

So, next time I’m feeling scattered, I can tell myself that maybe this is part of the process. Though sometimes I do suspect that I’m just being scattered.

Life

Victory

I’m not generally all that into sports. I used to occasionally watch football, but now I find it either too boring to pay attention to or too intense to enjoy watching (if I actually care about the outcome). I did go to every football game when I was in high school, since I was in the marching band, and for a couple of years I had season tickets for my university’s team. I’m kind of meh on baseball, but I enjoy the cultural ritual of going to a game. The local sports franchise I’ve watched most often is the Texas Rangers, who just won the World Series, and there is some pride and joy about that.

I went to my first Rangers game when I was in high school, at their old, old stadium. My dad took my brother and me to Arlington from our home in East Texas to make a day of it, and I brought a book to read during the boring parts, so I didn’t get invited to join those excursions again. I went to a lot of games at the old new ballpark (the one before the current one). I went with church groups a few times, we had at least one office outing to a game, and I had a friend who had season tickets who would sometimes bring me along. I like just about everything about going to a baseball game other than the game itself. I like the National Anthem, the player introductions, the various things they do to amuse the fans when it gets slow, like the dot races. I actually prefer minor-league baseball games to major league. I think it’s more fun watching people who have a dream and are mostly playing for the love of it than watching multimillionaires.

With the Rangers, you’ve got to love a plucky team of perennial losers. They’d made it to the World Series a couple of times about a decade ago and lost. Before that, any kind of big season was rare, and that history goes way back. This team used to be the Washington Senators, the team immortalized in the musical Damn Yankees, in which someone sells his soul to the devil to play for the team and beat the Yankees. Oddly, I’ve very seldom seen the Rangers lose. I seem to be a lucky charm for them. When I go to a game, they win. My friend with the season tickets was primarily a Yankees fan, so I wasn’t allowed to go with her to games when the Rangers were playing the Yankees (true story). I have not managed to capitalize on this to get free tickets to big games, though.

I must confess to not having watched much of the World Series. For the first couple of games, I was traveling and staying in a place without a TV (not that I would have watched). I watched part of one game with my parents when I got to their house on my way home. Otherwise, I’ve seen the result the next morning when I looked at the newspaper. I’ll admit that I got a bit teary-eyed when I saw in the paper yesterday morning that they’d won the Series. I even read all the coverage of it in the newspaper. There’s a big parade going on today, and I may watch it on TV. And then I will go back to not caring much about sports.

Life

Home from Vacation

I’m home at last from my epic journey. I’m physically tired after all that driving, but mentally rested and eager to get back to writing.

A porch on a Victorian home, with a porch swing and flowers.
With this porch at my inn, all to myself, sometimes it was hard to make myself leave to go touring.

The first leg of the trip was easy, just to my parents’ house, two hours away. Then the next day I drove to just outside Nashville, about 10 hours of driving (including gas, bathroom, and meal breaks). And then another long drive to Virginia. I stayed in an AirBNB in a historic home. It was essentially a one-room inn. This 1840 home had been run as an inn in the past, and the current owners kept the front of the house as an inn but live in the rest, so I had the bedroom/bathroom in what I think may have been the original dining room, the foyer, the dining room (that was probably originally a parlor) where they had the coffee bar set up, and a gorgeous porch. I spent a lot of time on the porch swing, resting up from all my wandering. That first night, I just went downtown (a block away) to pick up some carry-out dinner and then collapsed.

The next day, I did a ton of walking (my phone said it was more than 18,000 steps), just looking at the downtown area and some of the historic neighborhoods. I had lunch at a sidewalk bistro in what was the old warehouse district, then had dinner in a restaurant in the old railroad depot and a glass of cider made from locally grown apples at a downtown brewery.

I was a bit tired the next day from all that walking. There were a lot of hills in this town, and they were steep. So, I rode the trolley bus circuit they have that goes around town. A lady who’s familiar with the official trolley tour the historical society puts on was on the bus with me and gave me the tour. In the afternoon, I drove around to see some of the more remote sights and look at the gorgeous autumn color. I went out to dinner that night with my hostess and her daughter, and I ended up meeting several people while we were out.

An old-fashioned Main Street with Victorian buildings. The street is blocked off with restaurant tables and awnings out in the street.
Saturday on the main drag through town. Lots of nice Victorian architecture.

On Saturday, I wandered through the farmer’s market and took the historical society’s walking tour. On weekends for much of the year, they close off the main downtown street and set up sidewalk cafes for all the restaurants, so there was great people (and dog) watching. This weekend, they were doing trick-or-treating at all the downtown businesses, so it was fun watching all the people in costume. I had meals at a couple of sidewalk cafes.

And then it was time for the drive home, back through Tennessee and Arkansas. I loved driving through the mountains in Virginia and Tennessee, so it was a bit of a letdown to cross the Mississippi River and be in the flat delta area of Arkansas. I stopped for the night somewhere between Nashville and Memphis, then made it to my parents’ house to rest a little before driving home.

One reason for this trip was to scout this place out. I’d been thinking of moving somewhere different, and in my research for places with the kind of weather, scenery, and activities I like, I stumbled upon this town. On paper it seemed perfect, but I’d never been there. I finally planned a trip to see if I liked it in person, and I loved it. So now I have to make some big decisions about uprooting myself and moving halfway across the country. I think I’d be happy there. The cost of living is lower than where I live now. I’ve already got friends there now, and there seem to be a lot of people there I have things in common with — it’s kind of a geeky town, with lots of fantasy-related businesses and a pretty high per-capita count of bookstores (more in this smallish town than in my entire large suburban city). The town is right out of a Hallmark movie, the kind of place where I could have a house with a garden and still be able to walk to a downtown with shops and restaurants.

I wouldn’t be able to move until the spring because it would take me a while to get things together. I’d need to do some serious purging of belongings, some work on the house to get it ready to sell, and in the meantime I need to get some books written. I’m more or less taking off the rest of the week to recover. I’ll be rereading a book I was working on before I paused to write Tea and Empathy and making revision notes.

Life

Fake Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love so much about it, mostly to do with cooler weather — blankets, hot drinks, sweaters, being able to go outdoors without bursting into flames. But we don’t really get fall here. We get a day or two of fall-like weather. I’ve joked that it’s like the Ray Bradbury short story “All Summer in a Day” in which the sun only comes out once every seven years. We may get one day that really feels like fall, so we have to cram all the fall stuff into one day.

This year, that day was last Saturday. We had the crisp, cool morning and pleasantly just barely warm afternoon (alas, no colorful leaves yet, but that won’t happen until late November). I tried to take full advantage of it. My neighborhood association had a pollinator garden tour that morning, so I had something fun to do outdoors, and we had some monarch butterfly sightings (they migrate through here in early October). Then I baked pumpkin muffins in the afternoon and made chili for dinner and spent as much time as possible outdoors.

It was already warmer by Sunday, so we’re back to summer weather. I tried going to the park for lunch on Monday, but I got too hot in the direct sun and had to come back inside. It’s a lot more pleasant than it was this summer in that it’s not actually dangerous to be outside, but it’s still a bit warm for me.

We might get another fall day on Saturday, just in time for the partial eclipse, so I’ll be outdoors again. I’ll have to think of something to bake, and I need to get some ingredients for making soup. It might not even get too hot again, but that’s what they said the last time.

One thing that gets awkward at this time of year is wardrobe. My sweatshirts and sweaters are still put away for the summer, since it’s still tank top and shorts weather, but there are some mornings when I need a sweater. My uniform at this time of year is yoga pants, a tank top, and a hoodie for the morning when I’m eating breakfast on the patio, and then when I come inside to work I usually end up shedding the sweater and switching the yoga pants to shorts. In the evening, I may put the layers back on again to sit outside (mostly to attempt to block the mosquitoes).

On cool (ish) nights, I like doing what I call “fake bonfire night.” Where I live, I can’t have a firepit, so I can’t have a real fire, but I’ve figured out that the mosquito coils you burn to maybe discourage the mosquitoes smell a lot like a campfire. I light one of those, and then I have a wooden wick candle that crackles like a fire. I make s’mores in the air fryer oven — tear a marshmallow in half, stick each half to a graham cracker square, air fry for a few minutes until the marshmallow is toasted, then stick a piece of chocolate between the two crackers with marshmallows — and sit outside, smelling the scent of campfire and looking at the crackling candle flame. It’s not quite a real firepit experience of roasting marshmallows, but it gives me some of the ambience and sensations.

But for now, I’m wearing shorts and drinking cool drinks and waiting for the next cold front to cram in a little more fall.

Life

Exciting Weekend

I had a rather exciting Saturday night. It started out rather mellow. I was tired, so I took a shower early and put on my nightgown, then settled in to watch a movie. The movie was reaching the climactic scene when my doorbell rang, repeatedly, like it was something urgent. That usually means the teenage girls who live nearby have lost their volleyball over my patio fence while playing in the yard near it, so I got up and went to the door, but not very quickly. Instead of the girls, it was a man who stepped back off my porch as I opened the door, asked me if I was at home alone, then hurried to add that there had been an accident with my garage. Both of us seemed to realize at the same time that I was in my nightgown, and he said the police were on the way, but would probably be about ten minutes.

I put on the first clothes I had handy and went outside to find a car in front of my garage door, with the garage door bashed in. A group of my neighbors that I refer to as the Council of Indian Dads was out there, including the man who’d come to my door. My neighborhood is mostly Indian right now, and there’s this group of men who hangs out in the drive in the evenings, either talking to each other or on the cell phone to India (I guess the time zones line up that way), with kids and wives coming and going. I live in a townhome complex, so the garages are in different buildings from the actual houses and open right onto the driveway through the complex.

I eventually was able to get the story as they all tried to tell it, interrupting each other and translating for each other. Apparently, they were doing their nightly hang-out when a car came speeding down the drive. It tried to park in a narrow parking space next to a garage, then backed up, scraping the side of that building, and backed right into my garage, smashing the door in. They ran to see if the driver was okay. He told them he’d just done drugs, said he was out of gas and asked for $20, then said the garage belonged to his mom, got out of the car, and ran. That’s why the man who rang my doorbell had asked if I was alone. He was making sure the kid wasn’t telling the truth, but it was pretty obvious when he saw me that I wasn’t his mom.

I checked inside my garage through the side door, and fortunately my car is small and was pulled far forward, so it wasn’t hit, but the garage door tracks were busted out of the wall. Then the police arrived, quite frantic, and started searching the abandoned car, asking where “the child” was. Eventually, we figured out that this was a translation issue. The Indian Dad who’d called the police had referred to the driver as a child, since he was a teenager, but the police thought that meant there was a child in the car. It turned out that the car had just been reported stolen, so they were worried it was one of those times when someone stole a car with a kid in the backseat. The cop kept saying, “So a teenager?” and the Indian Dad would say, “Yes, a child.” This was turning into a “Who’s on First?” routine by this point until they clarified it as the driver being 15-17 years old and there being no other child involved.

Then another cop arrived with the owner of the car, who had been looking for it. I’m not sure what happened there, but it kind of sounded like she’d left it running when running into a convenience store. She said she does that all the time, and I just have to ask why. Does it really save that much time not to turn off the car and take the keys? And she was almost out of gas, so that seems even dumber. She’d also left her phone in the car, which the thief took when he fled. They were hoping they could use “find my iPhone” to track it and see if that led them to the thief, but she’d have to get home to get to her computer to do it.

The cops took lots of pictures and got statements from the witnesses, plus got the video that one of the Indian Dads took. They had to get my contact info and gave me the incident report number that I could use for insurance. If they catch the thief, then he’ll be liable for the damage, but I’m sure that will take a while even if they do find him.

When all this was over, I realized that the t-shirt I’d grabbed was my “Warning: What You Do May Appear in My Next Book” shirt, which would have been rather apt if I were currently working on mysteries. I’m just sad no one commented on it or asked me about it.

Now I need to get my garage door fixed. The HOA seems to be handling it, but their insurance company is now wanting the insurance info for the car’s driver, which is delaying things. In the meantime, I can’t open my garage to get my car out. If I don’t get something done soon, I’ll have to take the bus to go grocery shopping.

To add insult to injury, I was eaten alive by mosquitoes while outside for all of this, and in the past couple of days I’ve had symptoms of West Nile virus. We have had recorded cases nearby. It’s not severe, just a low-grade fever, headache and upset stomach. If it weren’t for the fever, I’d say it was just stress.

Life

Up on the Roof

First, a bit of news: If you haven’t tried my mystery series yet, the first book, Interview with a Dead Editor, is on sale through Labor Day for 99 cents, so this is a good time to give it a try, or to tell someone else about it.

I’ve been having an interesting week. My condo complex is getting new roofs, removing the clay tile (actually, apparently it’s concrete fake clay), putting on new decking, new waterproof layer, and then new tiles that are actually coated metal but that look like clay tiles. It’s been somewhat disruptive.

Last week, they were doing the buildings across from me, near my garage. They had supplies blocking my garage door, and I had to get them to move them. They brought over a forklift, and I felt so powerful, having a forklift coming to serve me. This week, though, they had reached my neighbors, which meant all the equipment has been in front of my house, more or less blocking me in. It’s a good thing I wasn’t going anywhere.

Yesterday, it was my turn. They start pretty early in the morning, take the hot part of the afternoon off, then work until sunset. I was sitting on the patio, eating breakfast, when I looked up and saw a face peering over the edge of my roof. They warned me they were about to be removing the tiles on the edge of the roof, so I scurried back under the covered part, and good thing, too, because there was a lot of debris falling.

The noise on the roof wasn’t too bad for most of the day. There was clanking when they removed the tiles and I kept hearing footsteps up there. But they they started dragging around the new decking and there was hammering. I kept jumping in surprise with every bang.

Next up, they have to put on the shingles, and I don’t know when that will happen. That seems to take them longer. I guess it’s good that we aren’t getting any rain. The main issue when that happens will be the sound of power tools. It makes a really annoying sound when they use a power saw to cut the metal shingle sheets. I was hearing it in my sleep last night, even though it’s been down the block. I don’t know how I’ll handle it when it’s next to my house. If I got more warning, I might go visit my parents then. For the first stage, I didn’t find out until the day before, and they already had my garage blocked with heavy equipment.

In spite of the disruption, I managed to get a lot of writing done. Imagine what I could do if there wasn’t all that pounding.

Life

The Importance of Trees

I read in two different, entirely unrelated nonfiction books last week about the importance of exposure to nature, especially trees. One book was about inner chatter, that voice in your head that can be good (it’s how you learn and remember things and organize your thoughts) or that can drive you nuts when it goes into overdrive (welcome to my life). One good way to calm it down so you can focus on other things is to look at nature. The book discussed research on the topic. There was a study of people living in public housing. People were randomly assigned to apartments, so they made for a good study group, and they found that people who got apartments that overlooked some kind of green space had better outcomes than people whose apartments overlooked things like parking lots or courtyards without any kind of greenery. Then they conducted a study in which people were given some kind of task assignment, then sent out to take a walk on one of two specific routes. The people assigned to walk through a park did a better job on the task when they returned than the people assigned to walk on a city route without greenery.

It seems that the brain only has so much voluntary focus in it, and dealing with something like a city requires voluntary focus. But the brain doesn’t have to work to focus on nature. It’s naturally drawn to notice things like trees and plants, so when you’re in nature, you have more focus left over. There’s also an issue of awe. Nature has a way of putting life in perspective so that you feel less overwhelmed by your daily stresses.

Then there’s the calming effect. The other book I read got into the idea of forest bathing, of immersing yourself in the forest as a way of getting perspective. It lowers the blood pressure and has a spiritual benefit.

I suppose none of this is all that surprising. I’ve always had a thing for trees and green spaces, perhaps because I spent much of my childhood on the plains of west Texas and Oklahoma. I remember feeling like I’d exhaled when we visited relatives in northern Louisiana where they were surrounded by pine trees or when we went camping in the woods in east Texas. A childhood friend from Oklahoma visited our old neighborhood late last year and mentioned the grove of trees I loved, and I remembered that my favorite place to play was a small (very small) grove of trees. When we moved to Germany, where we lived on the edge of a great forest, it felt like coming home. Some of my fondest memories are of taking long walks in the woods on the public walking paths.

Unfortunately, I currently live back on the plains. The forests we have are small and scrubby. I can see trees from my office window, but they’re just crepe myrtles, which are essentially overgrown bushes. Right now, I can’t get out to what trees we do have because we have dangerous levels of heat. You don’t want to go walking outdoors. I can’t even see the trees nearby because I’m keeping my blinds closed in an attempt to keep my house somewhat cool.

But according to one of those books, looking at pictures or videos of nature has a similar effect on the brain. I’ve found a number of YouTube channels of people walking in the woods. They’re shot first-person style, so it gives you the feeling of walking in the woods, rather than of watching someone else walk (the good ones have some kind of stabilization, so the camera doesn’t shake with each step). I’ve found that watching a few minutes of a virtual walk in the woods before I start work in the morning helps with my focus. Then I found some of these videos shot in an area that’s serving as a model for the fictional location in a book I’m developing, so I’m killing two birds with one stone. I’m getting a dose of nature while immersing myself in the world of my book.

And then I got the really bright idea to set up my mini jogging trampoline (I don’t have a treadmill) in front of my TV and walk in place while watching the video of a walk through my book setting inspiration, so I’m really multitasking, getting exercise, research, and nature exposure. I’m finding that ideas pop into my head as I walk and watch the video.

The only problem is that I feel sad when I turn off the video and find myself back in my hot, dry, barren world. I’m less happy about being where I am after spending time in a place I like much better. When I got out of school, I had plans to move to a place that was green and full of trees and hills, but I got a job here and ended up staying. I’m not sure which is worse for my emotional well-being, no exposure to nature (and trees) or exposure that makes me sad about where I live. I’m actually looking into relocating because the cost of living here is skyrocketing to the point I can’t afford to buy any house in my area and I want to get out of my current house, and if I have to leave the area, I might as well go to a place that’s cooler and greener.