riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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10+ Tips for Rural Living

Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville

Huyck Preserve, Rensselaerville

September 9th marks my first anniversary living in rural upstate New York after 19 years in Los Angeles. By now, the story of my moving here sight unseen has become a popular tale among friends. What I didn’t realize is how many people thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the isolation, the brutal winters, the humid summers, and so on. Who knows, there might have been a bet or two on how long I would last!

But I proved the naysayers wrong and adapted to my new surroundings well. For anyone considering making a similar move from the big city to a rural area, here are some suggestions on how to make it work:

Be outgoing 

Assuming you’re not a total hermit, the best way to meet people and learn information in a rural area is to be outgoing. Don’t be shy about asking for introductions. In the beginning, I met people through a few key introductions by people who live here, or who used to live here. I also ventured out on my own and introduced myself to folks. It helped to cast a wide net.

A new friend showing me and Ruby a fabulous swimming hole in Leeds.

A new friend showing me and Ruby a fabulous swimming hole in Leeds

Get referrals

One of the challenges of moving anywhere new is leaving behind your trusted mechanic, dentist, veterinarian, etc. Sometimes it takes years of trial and error to find these folks. When I moved to this area, the first thing I did was ask the guys at the local feed store to recommend a good veterinarian and bike repair shop. Others recommended a great mechanic, dentist, chiropractor, massage therapist, and more. The people who live here know who’s who and what’s what.

Classic car, Oak Hill

Classic car, Oak Hill

Find common ground

A new friend who also happened to move here recently summed it up perfectly: “I’m on a mission to make friends.” That means being proactive – finding groups that interest you, and activities where you might meet folks. It also means sometimes going out when you don’t feel like it, going out alone, doing things you wouldn’t normally do… basically stepping out of your comfort zone. I have traveled an hour or more to get to an event or visit a friend. It’s always worth it.

flying goat

Get a part-time job

Obviously, not everyone can do this… but I would highly recommend working part-time at a local business. Earlier this summer, I was fortunate enough to learn of a chef’s assistant position at a local farm-to-table cafe. I applied for it even though I’ve never been a chef’s assistant before, and got the job. Working at this popular local spot lead to not only meeting more people, but also learning more about agriculture, cooking and animals.

goats

Be “social”

There is an actual saying here called “being social” that describes when a person stops to chat with you before, during or after performing a service. For example, when my mechanic Bill works on my car, he chats with me and makes me laugh (his nickname for me is “California Niva”). Same with lady at the post office. Rarely do I just fly in and out of the post office without saying hello to Barbara, or us chatting for a few minutes. The last time I was there, she gave me a marrow bone for my dog. The point is, slow down and get to know people a little.

flowers in water

Be a good neighbor

Social interactions are really important in a rural area. It’s not just about making friends. People can also be resources, especially your neighbors. You might need to take refuge in their house when your power fails in a storm. So, get to know their names, say hello and good morning and have a nice day. When they wave to you, wave back! My neighbor Bob, who’s in his 80’s, and I became friends after he said Ruby could play in his fields. We’ve since had many philosophical conversations while standing in his fields. When his wife recently passed away, I baked him a pie and brought it over. I also helped him with his yard sale, and he lets me share a raised bed in his garden in return for my help with wedding and planting.

hanging clothes

Start walking

I’ve seen some amazing scenery while walking through my neighborhood and met people too. I also think there’s something good about being seen on a regular basis. Every day I pass this one farm where a dog lives that is friends with my dog. The owners and I don’t talk much, but whenever they see us coming, they let Bronson out so he can play with Ruby. Even the farm workers recognize Ruby and wave to us from their trucks as we pass.

Ruby and her buddy, Bronson

Support local businesses

This goes without saying. Local businesses remember their customers, and will greatly appreciate your business.

Be a good guest

In the country, people invite you to their homes a lot faster and more often than in the city. Any time you go to someone’s house, bring something or, even better, make something.

IMG_20150814_150612_504

Nectarine and blueberry upside-down cake

Pick up after your dog

One might think that in the country, it’s okay to not pick up after your dog. Wrong! People are really sensitive about their yards and property. I always pick up after Ruby, even in fields where no one can see us. I did, however, make the mistake shortly after moving here of throwing the bag in someone else’s trashcan. In the city this wouldn’t be a big deal, but after a few times, a woman came out of the house to ask me to stop because the bags were making her trashcan smell. Noted! Now I carry the poop bag all the way home and throw it in my own trashcan.

ruby

More suggestions:

  • Invite people to visit you
  • Travel and explore the area
  • Be nice to everyone you meet because everyone knows each other!

Living in a rural area can be a fulfilling, rich, culturally diverse experience. But just like living in the city, you have to work it!

heart puddle


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Seeing the Stars at Night

It’s funny how life turns out. I never thought I’d be living in the country. I’ve always been a city girl, the kind that screams at the sight of a roach, and jumps on the furniture at the sight of a mouse. On our one and only camping trip, Kaz found it amusing how paranoid I was in the tent at night. “What’s that? Did you hear something? Is there something in the sleeping bag with us?”

And yet, I was always trying to get us out of the city. To Joshua Tree, to Santa Barbara, to the coast, anywhere but inside the urban jungle. 10306074_10153212167690930_8118499099981483930_n When he was sick, and especially when he got depressed, one of my most frequent questions was: “Why don’t you sit outside?” “And do what?” he’d respond. “Just feel the sun on your face, the wind, listen to the birds, breathe some fresh air. It’s good for you!” But sitting outside on Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t his thing. I don’t blame him.

I often think of him now and wonder what he would say about my current life, if he would have been willing to make this kind of move to the country (probably not, his work was in the city), if it would have even occurred to us (again, probably not). 11150378_10153212167250930_9164052667769912565_n I know he would have loved the roads around here, which are perfect for motorcycle riding. He probably wouldn’t have liked the winters. But I think he might have liked the solitude. He was kind of a loner, or at least a homebody. He liked being at home, playing his video games, watching television, relaxing. He would have enjoyed how much I cook here.

Who knows. He might have been surprised by how well I’ve adapted to the solitude because I was always the social one. I still am, but in smaller spurts. Ironically, I relate to his homebody-style more now than before. 10421348_10153212167615930_3991056468008253707_n It’s hard to describe how much I love living in the country. It’s not perfect. I do miss certain things about the city, but on a day-to-day basis, I feel more content than I have since Kaz was alive.

As I write this post (the original by longhand on a yellow legal pad), I am sitting in the backyard on a weathered metal rocking chair that has a cotton cushion. I’ve sat on this chair all through winter. I call it my “outside office.”

The sun is out. It’s in the 60’s. The clouds are mere wisps. There is a strong breeze blowing, and a family of black flies buzzing around me. In the distance, the flowers that line the edges of the house have just begun to bloom. 11156179_10153212166650930_8998367947681788918_nRuby is lying nearby in the grass, her eyes half-open in that way dogs do when relaxing in the sun. This morning she was sniffing all over the yard instead of the usual stick-fetching, and I was reading a book. It was peaceful, both of us doing our own thing, occasionally looking up to check on the other. 11146263_10153212319680930_3791173026327755806_n Some people don’t want to deal with flies or dirt (which is unavoidable in the country), the wind, the quiet, and so on, just like some people prefer air conditioning to open windows in cars (I’ve always been the latter).

Apparently, there’s such a thing as Ecotherapy, which is literally contact with Nature, and it’s becoming more important as the world grows more populated and the environment continues to deteriorate. This article in the Washington Post discusses concerns that health officials have about how people in the future are going to get enough (unpolluted) nature to stay healthy. “The World Health Organization predicts that 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas within 30 years.”

If I’m still here in 30 years, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of those people. I like seeing the stars at night. 10360203_10153212167320930_1901981881794809668_n


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What Makes a Home “Home”

Yesterday marked three months of living in my new home, and I’m happy to say that it’s actually starting to feel like “home.”

What is it that makes living quarters actually feel like that? For me, it’s a few things.

Decorating

living room art

Living room wall

The other day I finally unpacked all the artwork I brought with me from L.A. and put some of it up. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds. I now live in a 2-BR apartment, instead of 1-BR, and have significantly more wall space. Also, the living room is green, which is tricky. So, before I put anything up, I walked from room to room asking “which color theme are you?” and tried to listen to what each room told me.

The living room wanted only black and white artwork which won’t clash with the green.

The bedroom asked for the big yellow painting I used to have over my bed in L.A., and my mother’s pastel-colored artwork. It’s going to be a powerful, feminine sanctuary when it’s finished.

Bedroom wall

Bedroom wall

The hallway claimed all the rock ‘n roll artwork, including the Coop lithograph, which now hangs just outside the kitchen.

Hallway corner

Hallway corner

Coop lithograph

Coop lithograph

The kitchen and the bathroom are still undecided.

Most of the artwork used to belong to Kaz, and reminds me of him. But in L.A., every wall also held an image of Kaz. Now, only my office (the smaller bedroom) has images of him. My office is the most private room in the apartment, not only because it has two doors which I can close from the inside, but also because it’s where I do my most creative thinking, spend most of my time, and feel the most content. It feels right to have Kaz with me in this room.

There’s still a long way to go with the decorating (rugs, matching towels, TV stand, etc.), but putting the artwork up was a big first step.

Cleaning

I know it sounds like I’m getting all domestic, but seriously, once you start cleaning your house, it’s Home! The other day I spent a couple of hours vacuuming, dusting, tidying up and mopping the kitchen floor. It felt good! I’ve also decided to go to war with the critters. A clean house is the first battle move.

Candles

In lieu of no fireplace, I’ve been using candles to add, if not real warmth, then decorative warmth. Some of them are scented (nothing overpowering), and make the house smell lovely.

Cooking

Some of you may recall that, for a long time after Kaz died, it was difficult for me to cook like I used to, and this was painful because I really love to cook. Now that I live in the countryside, where restaurants are far and few between, I’m back in the kitchen on a regular basis. I’ve made Chili, Meatloaf, Quiche, Frittata, Pumpkin Pie and Ice Tea, which I heat up for hot sweet tea in the cold afternoons. Soon I will make my first soups. But my specialty seems to be Apple Crisp.

It started in late September when I went apple picking with some friends and came home with 20 lbs of apples! I made my first batch of crisp with half of those apples, and the rest of the apples I brought to friends in NYC. My mother and I used to make apple pies together when I was a kid and, to this day, nothing recalls that feeling of home to me than the smell of yummy, buttery apples wafting throughout the house.  A tip: don’t throw away the apple peel and grinds right away. You can boil them to make hot cider and/or add them to tea for flavor.

(had to go big with this pic)

apple crisp

Fresh Apple Crisp made with hand-picked apples (can you smell it??)

Traveling

The first two months of being here, I went to NYC four times (!) and Washington D.C. once. I’ve seen lots of my family and friends in the city. I even saw Kaz’s mother in D.C. But after all that visiting and traveling, I cannot express how nice it was to come home to the quiet, natural beauty and slow pace of my new neighborhood, the comfort of my own bed, and the peace of my own office.

Staying Home

I don’t know when I’ll be traveling to the city again (maybe Christmas). For now, it’s nice to just plant roots and settle in. I guess staying home reinforces the feeling of Home.

All of these simple things have helped me adjust to the new reality and feel less homesick. I’m building a new life and a new career in a completely new environment. It’s a lot. When I unpacked the artwork, it was like reuniting with old friends. A little bit of Hollywood in upstate New York. 🙂

Can you think of other things that make a place Home? Design tips welcome!


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The Solitary Life

It’s been thirty-eight days since I arrived in upstate New York, and so far it’s exactly how I imagined it would be: gorgeous, quiet, clean and solitary. Several people have asked how I can possibly like being alone all the time. “I would go insane,” they tell me. “How do you manage not to?” (some visual clues at the bottom of this post)

First of all, I am not entirely alone because I have a dog.

Secondly, I’m not entirely alone because I take walks and pass by neighbors (everyone waves to each other up here), and sometimes we even strike up conversations. I also get out of the house for errands, events, meetings and socializing with new and old friends in the area. So far, I’ve been to a brunch, an Oktoberfest party, a lecture, a business meeting, two book club gatherings and an afternoon of apple picking, which was a lot of fun.

Thirdly, I’m not entirely alone because I go to New York City (aka “the city”) every few weeks to be with family, friends and colleagues. Soon, I’ll be venturing to New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see more people. These weekend trips are wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is they keep me on my toes. Driving in New York City is no joke.

All that said… I am definitely alone most of the time. Here are a few reasons why it doesn’t bother me.

I’m writing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading. When I’m not writing or reading, I’m checking social media, riding my motorcycle, cooking, walking, watching television, sleeping or, like previously mentioned out and about, in and out of the city and so on.

My daily schedule is broken down into blocks of time that start at 4:30 a.m. and end around 9:00 p.m. The 4:30-7:30 a.m. block is what a friend and I have dubbed the Plath Hours, after Sylvia Plath’s habit of working between four and eight in the morning, before her children woke up. We actually check in with each other via Twitter with the hashtag #plathhours. Feel free to join us if you’re interested. We don’t do it every day. Actually, the past few days, I’ve been writing at night instead of the morning. We dubbed the night writing hours #poehours.

My schedule includes a total of nine hours of writing time every week day, but I’m not writing the entire nine hours. I’m also checking email, social media, doing research, keeping up with my Modern Loss editing, and reading online journals. The point is, I’m at my computer working, with little to no distractions.

The rest of the day is broken up between playing with Ruby and regular day-to-day activities. We spend roughly three-four hours per day outside – rain or shine. I use this time to read and exercise (I’ve done both in the rain). Ruby plays fetch, chews her sticks, and explores the vast and many mysteries in the backyard. Afterwards, she sleeps under my writing desk on a bunch of pillows (rough life, I know.)

At 4:30 p.m., if I have errands to run, this is when I ride the motorcycle. Luckily, it’s still warm enough to ride. If I don’t have errands, Ruby and I walk to a nearby creek. She’s recently befriended a beautiful Doberman who lives at a farm along the way, and now he follows us to the creek. The dogs end up swimming, wrestling over sticks, and chasing squirrels and chipmunks. I’m not sure how we’ll keep up this routine when it gets cold, but I’ve thought about taking up cross-country skiing as a way to stay warm and still be outside.

A friend recently teased me that I’m living “a monk’s life.” It’s not as severe as that, but he has a point. It would definitely be nice to balance this solitary life with human company at the end of the day. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if/when I live with someone again. I’m pretty sure I will still spend a lot of time alone, in my office, with the dog at my feet.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see this lifestyle continuing on some level. Maybe I won’t live in the countryside, or maybe I’ll live part-time in the countryside. Either way, I plan to always have a place where I can be alone in a quiet, private atmosphere, and hopefully a fireplace or wood burning stove.

For now, I’m okay with things the way they are. Most of my energy is going into my work, which fulfills me in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time.

When people ask me how I like this new solitary, country life, I just smile. “It’s good for the soul.” It’s also producing results. More on that later.

woods Ruby on road to creek Ruby and Bronson2 ruby and bronson moto vista creek4 creek3 creek 2 creek happy me


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Catskills: First Impressions

After a 3-week, 4500 mile road trip across the U.S.A. with my dog, I’m finally in the Catskills of upstate New York. Yay!

And OH MY G-D.

Ever since arriving last Tuesday, I’ve been in a pleasant but no less real state of culture shock. Not surprising for someone who just traveled from a city of roughly 9 million people to a town with less than 5,000. I had fantasized what it would be like to be here countless times. Now I’m here and it’s… sort of everything I imagined it would be, and a few things I didn’t.

It’s only been a few days but these are some initial impressions (and images):

It’s quiet. So quiet I can literally hear the buzzing in my ears. This is great for concentration (why I came here), and also great for sleeping. Oddly, I’ve been sleeping like a rock and waking in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Unable to fall back asleep, I get on my computer to write (tonight at 2:30 a.m.) then go back to bed a few hours later. During the day, I’m full of energy.

It’s loud. Yes, it’s both quiet and loud… with the sound of insects, birds, wind, rustling leaves and the occasional passing car, truck or motorcycle.

It’s remote. The other day I had to drive 45 minutes (one way) and pay $2.00 in tolls to get to my bank. So much is done online these days, it might not be that much of an issue, but it’s definitely an adjustment. I’m thinking I’ll have to coordinate trips into the larger towns to coincide with other errands.

It’s beautiful. I’ll post some proper pictures later, but let’s just say I’ve had to stop the car a few times to take in some of the scenery. This is only a small hint of what’s to come.

Durham - nature 2

It’s green, so very green. I’m grateful to have arrived in early fall so I can witness the leaves turning. Right now, I’m really enjoying all the lush green.

Durham - lush green

It’s alive. Farm animals, wildlife, critters… even the dead skunk on the side of the road was interesting.

Durham - ruby looking at sheepDurham - deer in roadDurham - deer

It’s clean. I haven’t seen one piece of litter or trash — which is not to say I haven’t seen junk in people’s yards, but that’s different.

Durham - free stuff

It smells good. The air is pure and fresh. On rainy, chilly days like today the air was filled with the scent of burning firewood and wet grass. The other day I walked by someone’s house and smelled the sweet buttery scent of an apple pie baking. I actually paused in front of the window and when the lady inside looked at me, I waved. “Smells delicious!”

It’s motorcycle friendly. There are bikers everywhere. In fact, this weekend there was a motorcycle festival in town, complete with live music, spaghetti wrestling and other activities. I didn’t go. But my bike just arrived yesterday, and I can’t wait to ride!

motorcycle in durham

It’s really dark at night. The other night I drove home after dark and needed my high beams the whole time. I try not to think of slasher movies when walking at night. Actually, I try not to walk at night.

It’s friendly. Some people are quicker to talk to me than others, but those who have were extremely friendly. People have given me their phone numbers, invited me to events and introduced me to other folks within minutes of meeting.

It’s intellectual and creative. I’ve received more bookstore and library recommendations in the past five days than I have in 19 years living in Los Angeles, and heard there are many other writers and artists up here.

It’s cheap. Not only are the prices of necessities and services lower, but there are fewer opportunities to spend money. I’m not eating out, going to the movies, walking by stores or cafes. I literally haven’t reached for my wallet to buy anything in three days.

I’m excited to learn more about my new home, meet more people, and get a ton of work done.

Here’s to settling in. 🙂