There are pretty lights in the corner of FunkyPlaid’s study. I haven’t really decorated my space yet, but I am looking forward to it.
Today it has been 147 days since we left Scotland, not that I’m counting. (Of course I’m counting. I count everything.) That’s nearly five months. I say “nearly five months” but my current experience of time is so wonky that the phrase is practically meaningless.
A spam email in my inbox called me Dogmatic Halsted. Another called me Blatantly Halsted. I’d rather be blatant than dogmatic, I think.
Writing from: my unembellished study. Listening to: an airplane leaving or arriving … anything but standing still.
I am going to avoid wringing my hands over the celebrity bloodbath that 2016 has been so far and instead talk about something positive. We all could use it.
While unpacking today, FunkyPlaid discovered a wee succulent plant that he had given me in Scotland some time ago. That’s right: our movers wrapped up a tiny plant in paper and put it inside a box and taped it up. That box went on a container ship three months ago. And today we unwrapped it.
Sure, there were a bunch of dead leaves, but it survived. It had no water or light for three months and it survived.
Happy Earth Day.
Writing from: my makeshift study in the dining-room. Listening to: “Wabash Blues” by Joe “Fingers” Carr and His Ragtime Band.
No, I have not forgotten about my Project 365! But to prevent spamming your feeds, I have done one massive catch-up gallery. For individual captions, you should be able to mouseover each photo (if you’re viewing this on cygnoir.net).
Days 69 through 71 were spent wrangling logistics for the final move to Portland, which involved the earthly possessions we stored in the Bay Area while we were in Scotland as well as one very brave and accommodating tortoiseshell cat.
Days 72 and 73 were the drive up and the receipt of our goods from the movers. The move itself was not as smooth as we might have hoped, but Zen handled the ten-hour car ride with almost no complaints. We were within spitting distance of our new home when we had to stop to refuel the car, and that was when Zen chose to let us know with a very loud two-part yelp that it was about time we stopped doing this driving thing and fed her already.
So we did.
Zen has amazed me again with her good-natured resilience. She is too feeble to attempt the steep stairs that lead to the second floor but she barreled down the stairs to the basement without any compunction. Twice. (And had to be carried back up, of course.) Her favorite part of the new place is the large forced-air register in the entryway, which we have dubbed Reggie. Zen alternates snuggling with Reggie and lounging in the sunshine in the backyard.
By the way, Zen approves of the new place.
Days 74 through 79 have been all about unpacking and acclimating. FunkyPlaid and I are now waiting eagerly for the Scotland shipment to arrive. Rediscovering belongings that we have not seen for five years was an interesting exploration in personal archaeology. I opened a box of cephalopod stuffies. There was another box marked “T-Shirts and Weapons” and it was an accurate label. And the grandfather clock made it, although it was not in perfect condition when we stored it. I am looking forward to being gainfully employed again so I can restore it to working condition.
And today during the course of errands we discovered Old Portland Hardware & Architectural, which is incredibly wonderful and has walls of antique doorknobs and made me wish for disposable income even more.
The whole transition has been relatively painless, and I am so grateful for that. I had steeled myself for a lot of hassle but we have had good fortune as well as a great support network. The only hitch so far has been porting my mobile number to my new carrier, so if you are trying to reach me via text or phone … you can’t. I hope it is resolved soon. Until then, email is best. Thanks for wading through the wall of text.
Day 69 of Project 365: Leftenant Snakey.
Day 70 of Project 365: Dusk in the old town.
Day 71 of Project 365: Sushi love.
Day 72 of Project 365: Intrepid traveler.
Day 73 of Project 365: Settling in.
Day 74 of Project 365: T-shirts and weapons.
Day 75 of Project 365: Reggie.
Day 76 of Project 365: Cephalobox.
Day 77 of Project 365: Greens.
Day 78 of Project 365: Clock face.
Day 79 of Project 365: Turning.
Writing from: our new home in Portland! Listening to: our really loud fridge, which we have named Maxine. Yes, all of our appliances have names.
Today I spent sneezing, coughing, and working on job applications. One in particular was due today, and I am so relieved that it is finally finished. For as much as I love job interviews — yes, really — I do not love job applications.
In other incredibly exciting news today, Zen met Jack. Jack was not bothered, but Zen sang and sang. At least she didn’t box his ears.
Writing from: Zen’s room in Marin. Listening to: Zen chugging water.
I am not taking any chances with Zen’s acclimation to her new, temporary home, so for now she is confined to the guest room where FunkyPlaid and I are sleeping. Zen is not bothered by this in the least; she senses there is a world outside the door but has everything she needs in here.
The reason for my caution is the two other cats in this household, Jack (right) and Cinnamon (bottom left). Neither one is particularly aggressive but I know from experience that Zen can be. It’s also cruel to throw cats into unfamiliar situations like this one without several days of getting used to the idea of each other through the crack in the door. Jack has been nosing around but Cinnamon prefers to hide away (in general, not just at Zen’s arrival).
I’m fairly sure that once we start leaving the door open Zen will choose to remain in here by herself anyway. She’s never been overfond of other cats. But there are puddles of sunshine out there, and I know she won’t want to miss those. We’ll take it as it comes.
Writing from: Zen’s room in Marin. Listening to: my own sickly breathing. Ugh, colds.
First things first: Zen is safely with us.
When I posted yesterday’s photo, I was pretty worked up about Zen being stranded in Newark, but I knew that I wouldn’t be of any use if I didn’t try to get some sleep until the morning. I had barely drifted off when the landline rang. FunkyPlaid jumped up to answer it. The caller was someone asking if we were going to pick up our kennel (their word) or if they should send it via the delivery service.
In my half-awake state, two things ran through my head:
Someone at the Newark airport seems to think we’re local enough to pick Zen up or to send her via ground transportation. Huh?
Something has happened to Zen and all the airlines now has is her empty travel kennel. Which they now want me to pick up. We’re not even going there.
I mumbled something about not understanding what they were talking about and asking where they were calling from. The person identified themselves as a cargo attendant for the airline at SFO and repeated the query about the kennel, adding the fact that Zen had been there since just after eleven the night before and they usually only keep kennels for four hours.
I was so confused that I asked the person if there was a cat inside the kennel.
“Yep, a big one,” the cargo attendant said. (Hey. She’s not that big.)
I said we’d be right there. The cargo attendant confirmed that they had given Zen a bit of water so she wouldn’t get dehydrated, a small detail that buoyed me. At least someone in that whole transport process was thinking of Zen as a living being and not just some stray bit of cargo.
We quickly got dressed, set up Zen’s litter box, and drove to SFO. Sure enough, Zen was there, in fine fettle and waiting for us. There was some issue with the paperwork — what a surprise — but the excellent folks at the airline cargo place got us sorted quickly and we were on our way home.
When we got here, Zen ate all of the food we gave her, drank a lot of the water, and happily received all the snuggles we could give her.
As she dozed off I wrote yet another strongly-worded letter to the pet transport company. I still have not heard back.
After a few hours of relieved sleep, our first official act was to pick up our new car. During this process I decided that taking a selfie behind the wheel was an awesome idea or maybe just an idea and in my jet-lagged state ideas are in short supply. I didn’t intend for it to be today’s photo but I failed at that so it wins by default.
My one request of the day was a smoothie from Jamba Juice, an indulgence I have dearly missed, so we went there next … via P.F. Chang’s where I ate all of their gluten-free Mongolian beef with quinoa instead of rice. There is so much right in that sentence.
On the way home, we picked up some basic supplies for Zen. And that brings me to the five-hour nap and the present moment.
After an initial bit of turbulence, today has been a soft landing.
Everything is so big and so shiny and so new that it’s no wonder when Americans go abroad the first adjective we trot out is “quaint”. America is short on “quaint”.
I was stymied by the number of choices of cat food. Grain-free cat food with salmon flakes is a thing that exists.
I almost cried when the P.F. Chang’s server had a non-food-related conversation with us. I know more about him than I did about the people in the building we lived in for the past two years.
Not sleeping before a long international flight seems like a great idea until jet-lag happens. Now I’m wide awake at midnight PST, which makes total sense in GMT where it is eight in the morning. d’oh.
Writing from: a guest bedroom in balmy Marin. Listening to: Zen’s purrs.
I’m not going to bury the lede: Zen is stuck in Newark due to Storm Jonas. I’m distraught both by the circumstances out of our control and by the lack of appropriate action taken by our pet transport company. But with any luck she will be with us in less than twelve hours, so I am resolved to stay positive.
The past twenty-four hours has contained nearly all of the standard range of emotions and some of the limited-edition ones I collected by saving cereal box tops. It started with the lack of sleep: FunkyPlaid did not sleep at all on Sunday night, and I slept for about an hour. Then we gathered up our dear wee calico creature and took her to the airport cargo ‘village’, the sheer preciousness of that phrase making me want to slap something in the face right about now.
This is where all the fun started. Initially, the cargo attendant refused to accept Zen because he said our pet transport company did not file the proper customs paperwork. Attempting to reach the company at 04:30 in the morning was ineffective, even on their emergency line, but the cargo attendant finally relented and said he’d accept Zen and go through all the usual pre-flight procedure with her in hopes the customs paperwork would get sorted before she needed to be on the plane.
I wish I could describe the feeling of white-hot rage at the situation paired with deep despair over leaving my beloved Zen with disdainful, skeptical strangers. But we had to push through it because in the few short hours between dropping Zen off and catching our own flight we had to turn over our flat and sell our car. You know, standard international relocation stuff. A little over an hour later — and still with no word from our pet transport company — the cargo attendant rang us back and said the airline had approved Zen for travel, so not to worry about the customs paperwork. All was well. Or so we thought.
We knew Jonas was on the way, and would likely interfere with Zen’s flights as she had to fly into the country through Newark. I had prompted our pet transport company for contingency plans. (Again, they failed to come through.) I’ve been tracking flights in and out of Newark just to know what to expect. I had hoped her four-hour mandatory layover — a requirement for pets entering the country — would offer some cushion against the inevitable delays. So I was not surprised when we got word from the airline that her flight would be delayed, and we could pick her up five hours after our own flight arrived.
What I did not see coming is the flight being canceled altogether, stranding Zen in Newark overnight. Even better: we didn’t know it had been canceled until I called the airline to find out the exact time of her arrival tonight. If I hadn’t been so persnickety about it we would have driven all the way back to the airport only to come home empty-handed.
The worst part of all of this is that Zen is alone in an unfamiliar place, thousands of miles away, and I can do nothing about it. I’m trying not to manifest that old adage, “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want to happen,” but all of this drama did put such a damper on what was shaping up to be an excellent welcome home. My in-laws are categorically awesome, and we saw the loveliest glimpse of a massive golden moon shining over the city as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. Now all we need is Zen with us, safe and sound, and we can get on with the next big adventure.
Writing from: my in-laws’ home in Marin County. Listening to: FunkyPlaid’s breathing as he gets some well-deserved rest.
A couple of years later, befuddled tourists started asking me how to get to the castle. Me! I could hardly believe it. I must have looked like I knew where I was going, but the truth is that the only place I knew how to get to without thinking and without checking on the blue dot on my phone was home.
This is home to me. This has been my home for four years. This will not be my home tomorrow. All of these facts take their turns flitting into and out of the “inconceivable” box in my brain.
I am ready to leave, and I am not ready too. That’s the best time to go.
Writing from: a home, my home, in Edinburgh. Listening to: all of the subtle noises that I won’t hear again.
The bed is a borrowed raft, adrift in the empty flat. FunkyPlaid and Zen and I are left, cosy and drowsy in each other’s company. Strange how it even smells emptier. I am thinking of the other leave-taking in this matched set, and how melancholy I felt. This way feels bittersweet as well, for all we are leaving behind, but there is undeniable relief woven through it: we accomplished what we set out to do. (And more. And less. And so we’ll return.)
Zen has already moved on. The raft was always just a bed to her, and her fireplace is waiting.
Writing from: a still-furnished bedroom in Edinburgh. Listening to: the slow ping of the radiator.
Halsted M. Bernard is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have appeared in Innsmouth Magazine, Map Literary, and Bewildering Stories, and she has performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, both as a Story Shop participant and with the literary writing and spoken-word performance group Writers' Bloc. For more about Halsted's publications and performances, please see her "Fiction" page.