Visiting Susan


You’ll have to forgive me. I’m blogging about something that happened in May, in July. I refuse to give up blogging even though life is clearly trying to tell me that it’s not as important to me as it used to be. So, yes, this last May I took a little trip to Northern California to visit my good friend and fairy godmother, Susan.

They say you should have someone older in your life who can mentor you and someone younger who you can mentor. Susan is definitely my mentor. We’ve been talking about everything under the sun and encouraging each other for twenty years. TWENTY YEARS!!!


Those of you who know Susan, know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that Susan is full of life. She buzzes on a higher frequency than the rest of us. She is like a hummingbird, or in my case a fairy godmother, leaving love bombs everywhere she flits. She’s been taking care of me for so long with gifts and little thoughtful acts of kindness,  I have to stop her now because I don’t need so much as I used to. I used to need her care desperately. From haircuts and loans to childcare to long walks and phone calls through tear strung marriage difficulties and clients that sucked my will to live…she has always been there for me. I wish everyone had a fairy godmother.

But also she is just my friend. A kindred spirit. No matter what we do together, we always have fun. Twenty years is a long time to have fun.


Whenever I’m struggling with life, I like to pop in on Susan and rest up in her home that feels like a retreat. In fact, I hosted my 40th birthday retreat there and I’m contemplating hosting my 50th there as well.  Her home is so welcoming and unique. No matter what size your party, whether it’s one person or 50, that house can fit everyone like a hug.


I’m sorry to keep bragging but Susan and I have been postcard buddies for a really, really, really long time. It started out as a way to keep in touch when she was recovering from a broken back but I just never stopped sending them. That’s twenty years of postcards! Susan has kept every single one. She brought them out when I was there and it was eye-widening. I didn’t read every single one but I perused them and with each card, I caught myself reliving chapters and chapters of my life. So much has changed over the years…


We organized them and put them in a new box. It felt like I was looking over a manuscript. Who knows, maybe they will play a part in a memoir I might write someday.


So many memories.

But as I said, I was at Susan’s to rest and recharge. I needed a little break from my regular life to get a new perspective on some thought problems that have been plaguing me. Nothing too serious or anything that I can really share but you know how life can twist and turn and you find yourself changing in ways you never thought you would…  I’ve been seeing a therapist for a while now and it’s making me stronger and stronger. I’m taking on changes that my old self wouldn’t even acknowledge. It’s a very weird and new place for me to be.


Some of my growing pains have decided to manifest themselves physically in my back. I creak and ache and one hip likes to get really really cranky. I don’t like it at all. I thought I could stay young and spry forever but add a combination of weight gain, bad posture, and way too much anxiety and I think my age is starting to show against my will

Susan decided I needed time on her “bio-mat,” a heated yoga mat made of tubes with crystals inside them. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical of woo-woo crystals but I dutifully did my time as Susan prescribed: Ten to 15 minutes every morning and night. It took a lot of patience in the morning to stay still and at night I fell asleep on it. I’m such a morning person that I run out of energy like a dying cell phone as soon as the sun goes down. If you ask me to watch a movie or lay on the floor on a heated mat, I am out in less than a minute. Susan would wake me up after fifteen minutes and I’d hobble off to bed.

But it did work! The pain in my back got less and less every day. I’m not sure if it was the crystals or just being cared for by Susan.


On my second day, we visited a warehouse sale of Japanese artifacts. This sale only happens twice a year and Susan is on the mailing list of special customers who wait for these things. I was very happy to tag along!


My mom lived in Japan when she was growing up so I have a soft spot for Japanese tchotchkes. I have fond memories of opening my mom’s cedar chest, breathing in that cedar smell, and looking through all of her treasures… I’d try on her wooden geta shoes, finger her silk obe, marvel at the tiny kimonoed figurines and kokeshi dolls… I love it all. It was really fun to walk around the warehouse and take pictures of things to text to my mom that might bring back memories of her childhood.


I wished I was an interior decorator with a massive budget and a shipping container because I would love to ship this whole wall of wooden drawers and chests back to my house. Isn’t it amazing? I did buy a few small things that could fit in my suitcase but no furniture for me.

Then in true Susan fashion, she whisked me off for some more retail therapy in Nevada City. We meandered through the usual touristy shops (which we both found so strange after being cooped up all year) and then hit up her favorite thrift store.

Have I shown you Susan’s yard? Retreat is the theme here:


Everywhere you look in Susan’s yard there is something to see. Angel statues, gazing balls, twinkling wind chimes, stacked rocks, rose gardens and flowers everywhere…


In the very back corner of Susan’s yard is a strange installation that looks like a small oblong spaceship made out of copper pipes. It’s called The Omega. I don’t understand it completely but Susan described it as a series of pipes that encapsulate crystals that are pointed in a strategic direction to beam positive energy at all the negative energy in the world. Kind of like if there is a war in the middle east then this sculpture is beaming positive crystal energy at it. I know, it sounds crazy but there are crazier ideas in the world and this has good intentions so let’s just go with it. It’s installed by a guru of some sort who has all the coordinates figured out. In fact, Susan accidentally moved a plant in her yard and he called her up distressed. Apparently, he could tell with his spidey sense that something was not right in the crystal energy field as it were and by triangulation, he narrowed it down to a plant that was obstructing the beam. Go figure!


I’m not a convert yet but I did find it incredibly interesting and maybe I might have picked up on something because when I stood next to it I felt a weird buzzing sensation in my chest. Or it could just be the power of suggestion. Either way, it was weird!


It’s always good to have a friend who’s into woo-woo stuff.


On our third day, we headed out to nature. Because everyone knows nature is good for healing all that ails.



It was hot. But I’m glad we went because now it’s even hotter.


There is nothing I like better than a hike through the wilderness along a stream. The flowers! The dying fauna…


California is such a beautiful state. I’m sure all the other states have their beauty too but I am very proud of my California girl status.


It just suits me. Or I suit it. I’m not sure.


After hiking quite a bit we cooled ourselves off in our own little “Mermaid Grotto”  of giant boulders half-submerged in the stream. It was so nice to hide in the shade and let our feet cool in the icy cold water. It was just what I needed.


Then we headed back home for our traditional glass of wine on her front porch. Susan has the best view. Unfortunately the mosquitos like it too so we didn’t stay out there too long.


The next day we gardened! I mean, we’ve hit all the other R and R menu items so gardening falls in there somewhere!


Susan had a small spot in her yard that was in need of some TLC so we built a little rock garden with pebbles and river rocks she had around.


She also has a pretty nice collection of clay figures that a friend gave her so we placed them around.


Can you tell Susan loves her garden?  We spent the rest of the mornings and afternoons there soaking up the tranquility. It’s the perfect little spot to sit and chat while you sip on a cup of coffee.


At the end of my visit, I felt completely rested and recharged and ready to deal with the big decisions I needed to take care of when I got home.


We finished off the perfect week with a parting dinner at one of Susan’s favorite Italian restaurants. You can’t really go home from visiting an Italian without having at least one superb pasta dish, right? It was delicious of course and I can’t wait to go back.  But I got what I came for: some restorative advice from a trusted friend. Now to take on the rest of my life!

Desert Girl at Heart


I’ve lived in the desert most of my life but I have never actually visited Joshua Tree National Park before.  I’ve seen plenty of Joshua Trees in my travels along the side of the freeway but that’s not the same at all. And you know what’s even better than visiting the park? Actually staying overnight there.


Technically we didn’t stay in the park but we were really really close. Payam and I were super lucky to be invited to stay in a really nice airbnb near Pioneertown. It was a dream come true for me. Right outside the doors of this modern little fortress to the sun were miles and miles of desert. Nothing but rocks and cacti and Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see. The magic of actually staying here is that I could follow the light. There was no rush to catch golden because I was there all day. I could watch the light move across the landscape and paint pictures along its way. The light is what really makes the desert beautiful.


The desert is very inhospitable. It’s spiky-sharp, harsh and dry. Not anywhere you want to be in the summer when it’s 120 degrees and the sun beats down relentlessly…

In winter, however, the desert is BEAUTIFUL! It’s a sunny 60 degrees, almost chilly but the sun warms your back like a cozy blanket. Just like the ocean, the desert commands respect with its vastness. You really feel how small you are and how desperate you would be if you were stranded without food and water. It makes you pause.


We were far from stranded. Even though our airbnb seemed quite remote there were other houses dotting the landscape all around us. They just blended in. I have to give desert-dwellers credit for choosing color palettes that match their environment.

The first morning we were there I woke up early and rushed outside to scout around. You can imagine my surprise when I scaled a small rocky hill behind our airbnb and found this little gathering of blue chairs, glowing in the morning twilight!

It was a bit disconcerting to stumble across remnants of others when you thought you were all alone.  I worried that I might be trespassing but then I though, Eh, they can’t be that mad at me. Obviously we must be kindred spirits with the choice of blue chairs and all… The desert seems to attract artsy sorts.  I could definitely live here. It’s just the flooding and the 120 degree heat I’m not so sure about.


On the other hand, I did not feel like I was very welcome when I crouched under this cholla bush to take a picture and a large thorn pieced the soft sole of my Ugg boots like it was slicing through butter. My foot was fine but it reminded me that I was far off the path. That’s what you get for stealing photos! the bushes seemed to say, laughing at me. Get back on the trail, city slicker!


I love this rust-colored sage flower. All the plants remind me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. They are almost surreal in how different they are from the flora where I live. There weren’t any wildflowers out yet but I got the feeling they were just around the corner. I’d love to come back here in Spring, that is if everybody else isn’t planning to be there too. I hear it can be quite over-touristed.


So we took advantage of it not being busy and Payam and I hiked all over. It was all so pretty.


Inhospitable but pretty. Good thing I wore my army boots!


No cozy wooded meadows here!


We scrambled over rocks and took pictures of each other pretending to be King of the Mountain.


Or in my case, a little field mouse hiding in the rocks.


Rocks and more rocks… Have you seen those posters making fun of bad yelp reviews of National Parks? Nothing to see here but a bunch of rocks!


But how magical are all these rocks?!!! If you look close enough you can see tiny people scrambling up the sides of them.


They are so tiny they reminded me of the miniature photography of Tanaka Tatsuya . Check out the rope walker above.


The morning light and the evening light was the prettiest. But the strong harsh shadows of mid-day also played at my imagination.


In the middle of the day old dead tress threw black spidery shadows against soft sandstone. And then as the sun slowly set again, the light softened into dreamy atmospheric shades of sunset. We didn’t get any crazy magnificent colorful sunsets but that didn’t bother us at all.


Soft subtle sunsets sooth the soul just as well when you have the luxury of not having to do anything but enjoy them.