Category Archives: Exploration and Wonder

puzzles

The Best Advice So Far - puzzles

Many of you know that I just returned from the longest vacation of my life — a full five weeks on Florida’s West Coast.

Prior to the trip, I began concocting plans for all I wanted to do, see and accomplish while away:

Get the audiobook up and available online.

Visit Captiva and Sanibel Islands.

Spot a wild dolphin.

Start writing my next book.

The list went on.

And I’m happy to say that most of my goals were achieved, including each of the above.

But among my aspirations was one that may seem strange to some:

Complete a difficult jigsaw puzzle.

When I was a child, and into my teen years, I always had a jigsaw puzzle going. And as far as I was concerned, the harder — the better.

I did an all-black puzzle with only a tiny pinhole of light at the center.

One was just bubbles.

I enjoyed the square variety where the same picture from the front was displayed again on the back, only rotated 90 degrees.

I did puzzles where the frame was irregular instead of having flat edges.

And though finding room was a challenge, I often did puzzles of 4000 or 5000 pieces.

Still, as big a part of my growing-up years as puzzles were, it struck me recently that I hadn’t done a single one since high school.

As crazy as it sounds, setting into that jigsaw puzzle — whatever it would be — was cause for just as much anticipation as watching a tropical sunset. I’d been given a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas and had tucked it away in a special place, just the occasion.

Within 24 hours of arrival in Florida, I’d chosen a first puzzle. I decided to ease my way into it with a puzzle of a mere 500 pieces: a colorful underwater scene featuring sea turtles. (After all, I did have other things I wanted to be doing on this vacation besides puzzling.)

Working on the puzzle, I was transported back those three decades. I often became aware that I was biting my…

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happy sad

The Best Advice So Far - happy sad

I’m writing mid-flight, on my way back from the longest vacation of my life — five weeks in Southwest Florida. After so long away, it feels more like a move than merely returning from someplace I’d been visiting.

Late last night, I drove to the beach for one last walk.

The main street downtown was still aglow, lit up like Christmas. I’d strolled the strip often during my stay, this year and during the five years of previous visits.

I’d eaten at that Persian restaurant on the right.

I’d sat awhile on a bench in that tiny garden park on the left.

I’d played gin rummy and sipped iced chai and written blog posts in that little coffee shop.

People sat at outdoor tables, talking and laughing. Music greeted me from the open doors of a warmly lit restaurant.

Just a few days ago, it had all felt very much like my street — like a place and people who knew me well. Last night as I drove, however, it felt … different. A bit foreign. Like I was a ghost passing among the living, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

A few zigs and zags and I’d arrived at my destination. I kicked my sandals off into the car. I’d walk the shore barefoot, as ever. The colorful ceramic turtle mosaics set into the cement pavilion that opened onto the pier seemed somehow to be swimming … away.

Caribbean music pulsed from the close side of the pier, a group of young Haitian boys having an impromptu dance party. They parted as I approached, smiling and turning toward me with hands overhead and hips swaying, a wordless invitation to join them if I liked. I returned the smile and dance-stepped my way over to the stairway that let down onto the beach, the small crowd closing in my wake.

Above, in the sky, silent lightning played its own complex rhythms, reflecting off the waves beneath. The water was warmer than ever, tumbling over and around my feet, then pulling the sand out from under them in retreat.

A perfect night.

I walked with the knowledge that, whether I stayed ten minutes or two hours, there would come the time when …


i spy

The Best Advice So Far - i spy

 

My tank top clung to my skin with sweat. After temperatures that had topped 100° over the last several hours I’d been exploring, the air conditioning that wooshed out to greet me as I opened the metal and glass doors felt like an ice bath. I settled briefly onto a blue sofa, across from a young couple who had also just entered.

“See anything good?” I asked them.

The man rolled a shoulder. “Nah, nothing really. Just a couple of the usual lizards.”

I was mystified.

We’d each just emerged from an incredible Audubon-protected swamp sanctuary here in Southwest Florida, having traversed the same boardwalk that meandered through six different ecosystems. How had they seen “nothing” … when I’d seen so much?

Just a few paces in, I’d spotted a small alligator lounging along the far side of a murky pool.

Yes, I’d seen lizards, noting which were green anoles and which were brown. But I’d also seen black ones, trying to hide among the puzzle-like pattern of tree trunks covered in red and white lichens. There were skinks as well.

Great egrets sauntered among waist-high marsh grasses, one only perhaps a yard away, its slender neck undulating side to side then straightening regally.

I’d lingered in the shaded areas where possible, canopies of giant palm and ancient cypress overhead. At times, I just closed my eyes and listened. I wondered what creatures were making the slurping, splishing, crackling sounds in the water around me. Birds laughed raucously somewhere among the trees as sonorous grunts ping-ponged back and forth from among the tall grasses. Pig frogs, as it turns out.

There on a moss-covered log, motionless at first, was a fairly rare species of turtle, Deirochelys reticularia. After watching a while, however, I was rewarded with a full extension of his yellow-striped neck.

Another alligator, much larger than the first, blinked its eyes at me from among some reeds around a bend. I was patient and he was curious. Before long, he glided lazily over — so close I could have reached down and touched him — before continuing on his way into unseen spaces.

Just moments later, something caught my eye to the right…


adventure

The Best Advice So Far - adventure

In May of this year, the dare-based television show Fear Factor was revived by MTV. I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of the show during its original run from 2001 to 2006, though catching snippets at a friend’s house or while at the gym was virtually unavoidable.

I recall an episode where one person from each couple/team had to lie down in a glass coffin which was subsequently locked. A few dozen tarantulas were then dumped on top of the person through a chute, followed by a hundred or so live crickets.

Outside the coffin, more live crickets were fed continuously through another chute into a blender-type mechanism with a tap of sorts at the bottom. And only by chugging down glass after glass of the fresh cricket guts — fast enough to get the blender level to dip below the halfway mark — could the second contestant from each pair pop the latch on the coffin and release his or her teammate from the feeding frenzy of spiders.

My aversion to the show, believe it or not, wasn’t due to any particular disgust at the situations, but rather to something closer akin to irritation. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

People would pull pained faces or shudder and exclaim, “I can’t imagine ever doing this stuff, no matter how much money!” Meanwhile, I’d be thinking things like…


creative love

The Best Advice So Far - creative love

Due to an unexpected turn of events this week (a stolen wallet, fraudulent charges to my bank card and all that goes along with getting your life back to normal afterward — a topic about which I may write in more detail at a later time), I’m still not quite over the finish line where the audiobook release of The Best Advice So Far is concerned.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share one more audio chapter — Chapter 14: “Creative Love.”

This chapter has remained one of the most popular and most talked about chapters of the book. What’s more, the chapter combines memories from 4th-of-July celebrations both recent and long past. So in honor of Independence Day, Tuesday here in the U.S., I thought sharing this chapter would be apropros.

Click the link below to continue at the new site and listen to the official audiobook recording of Chapter 14: “Creative Love” (the full chapter text is there as well, if you’d like to follow along) …


lemonade: for the ears

The Best Advice So Far - lemonade for the ears

At the end of February, I finished recording the tracks for The Best Advice So FarAnd at that time, I posted one of the audio recordings here on the blog —”Chapter 2: Negativity.”

Well, I had set a goal for myself to have everything mixed and mastered by June 1. It turned out to be far more than I had bargained for — over 100 hours altogether. Wearing headphones for hours on end, listening for “poppy” Ps and “tappy” Ts and “slushy” SHs, all while watching jagged sound waves on a screen. Listening to every facet of my own voice, up close and personal. Let’s just say it was no picnic.

But now I can have a picnic. Because I did meet my goal. At long last — it’s done!

And I am inviting you to my picnic…[audio link on the Main Site; click below to hop over!]


two and five

The Best Advice So Far - two and five

My brain has been in a perpetual fog for the latter half of this week. Any semblance of a regular sleep schedule has been obliterated since Wednesday, when I made the choice to stay up all night. I had my reasons. They seemed good reasons at the time. But the result was that I wound up going about 36 hours without sleep. Since then, I’ve been wide awake when I should be sleeping — and tired only when I can’t be.

Being this off kilter when it comes to sleep makes me feel “buzzy,” like my skin has a low-level electrical current passing through it. It’s particularly annoying in my head and face. This is paired with the sensation that the world is what I call “slidey” — that things in my peripheral vision are sneaking around, dashing back to where they were only when I look directly at them.

Some people think writing — particularly writing a blog post — is easy. I can only say … it’s not. I would estimate that each blog post takes an average of three-and-a-half hours to complete, and that’s only from the time I start typing. It doesn’t account for all of the mental planning that goes on during the week about what to say and how, an ongoing process that takes considerable time and energy all on its own.

Last night was another largely sleepless night. I went to bed at 11:00 (quite early for me), with the hopes of getting at least a solid six hours. But not even three hours in, I woke up with a start and was wired. My mom admonished me to just stay in bed when this happens. I tried. I really did. But it was just not going to happen. So I got up, threw on some shorts and …