Category Archives: travel

One Fine Day in Kansas

During spring break this year, I took a trip to the Midwest – I’d never been there before and I was looking for some adventure. I planned my trip around the three presidential libraries in that part of the country (Truman’s in Independence MO, Eisenhower’s in Abilene KS, and Hoover’s in West Branch IA), and a visit to Russell KS, Bob Dole’s hometown (why Bob Dole?).
On March 27th I woke up in Wilson, Kansas. Home of the World’s Largest Czech Egg.
From there I took the backroads to Russell. As I was taking pictures of myself in front of Bob Dole’s house in the middle of town, an old-timer in a beat-up truck slowed way down to make sure that there wasn’t any tomfoolery going on.
There was a little coffee shop in downtown Russell, and after much back and forth I decided to stop there for a fancy coffee. It was just me and the young barista. She asked me where I was from and then asked what I was doing in Kansas. I said, Well, I have this tattoo…”
Shelby, the barista, wanted to see it. When she peeked at it she gasped. Here’s why:Shelby also has a “She flies with her own wings” tattoo. Hers is for her grandma, and she didn’t know that it’s Oregon’s state motto.
That was when Jim, the local Farmers Insurance agent, strolled in for some coffee. Shelby introduced me like we had known each other forever, and told Jim a bit about why I was there, at which point Jim started regaling me with Bob Dole stories. He is much beloved in Russell – he’s done a lot for his hometown over the years. I heard about his kid brother, Kenny (the Billy Carter of the Dole family). There was a story about Bob Dole’s mom chastising Jim for not voting for her son in an early election. Jim is a Democrat (so they really do exist in Kansas!). I could have stood there chatting with Shelby and Jim for hours (Shelby even invited me to stay for lunch with her), but then talk moved to how I should spend the rest of my day. They both insisted that I visit the toilet in Lucas, so I thanked them both and got in my rental car and headed out.
An hour later I pulled into Lucas. I headed to the Grassroots Art Center. Turned out that they were closed on Mondays, but I ran into some volunteers who were there for a meeting with Rosslyn, the woman who runs the place. Rosslyn said that she’d love to chat with me and take me on a tour of Lucas, so I said I’d be back in an hour. I walked down the road to the toilet. And y’all, it was amazing. The community turned their public bathroom into a toilet-y work of art.
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See the toilet paper roll? The whole building is an enormous toilet. Seriously. You should see the toilet in Lucas, Kansas.
Another angle. In the middle of the bowl there are things that people have dropped in a toilet.
Back at the Grassroots Art Center, Rosslyn gave me a tour of the museum, where they have collected art created by ordinary folks in the region.

This is about 3/4 the size of a real car and is made out of beer can pull-tabs.

After the museum, Rosslyn took me to a house that was being used to host/display the works of another Lucas artist.
After a lovely day in Lucas, I drove north to Lebanon – the geographic center of the contiguous United States. The exact spot is in a farmer’s field nearby, but the marker is in a little park west of town. It’s a place of importance in Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods. Which isn’t why I went there but was a cool thing to find out when I finished the book after I got back to Oregon.

I have a cooler picture, but it’ll probably be my Thanksgiving card.

Before I bought that fancy coffee drink, I had planned to visit the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, just on the other side of the Kansas-Nebraska border. As it was, I arrived at the museum about 5 minutes before they closed. I found a motel and a pizza place, and as I waited for my deep-fried pickles I realized that my day in Kansas was one of the best days of my entire life. March 27, 2017 was the kind of day that makes me grateful for all of the people and experiences in my first 39 years of life that made me have the idea to get a tattoo that would inspire me to leave my home in Oregon and venture out into other parts of the country.

My North Carolinian Exchange Student

(I’m using capitals because I’m writing this for the students of Water’s Edge Village School – don’t be alarmed.)

I met Meghan when we were in Greece as AFS exchange students 25 (?!?) years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. Meghan is the mother of two cool school-age boys and a big dog. She’s also lighthouse keeper in the Outer Banks village of Corolla, North Carolina. Recently she rallied her community to reopen Corolla’s elementary school so that Corolla’s kids could go to school in their own community instead of spending hours on a school bus to go to school in another town. When my Durham friend Jamie invited me to visit her in North Carolina, we planned a weekend in Corolla – I hadn’t seen Meghan since I was 17.

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Meghan and Kriste in Greece circa 1990

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Jamie, Kriste, and Meghan inside the Currituck Beach Lighthouse circa 2012

Which explains how I ended up being serenaded on my 39th birthday by Meghan’s two sons in their comfy home in Corolla, which I highly recommend.

A very Corolla birthday

A very Corolla birthday

Recently Meghan asked me if I would host an exchange student from WEVS. My response was almost, “Duh.” But I have better manners than that, so I said, “Absolutely!”

A few weeks later, an envelope from Meghan’s son Paolo arrived. Inside it was Stanley. Flat Stanley is the title of a great kids’ book about a boy who is flattened in the night by a bulletin board. WEVS students made Stanleys (Stanlies?) and mailed them off to folks around the country. Our job as hosts was to write back to Paolo’s class about our states and what Stanley did while he was with us. Here goes.


When people think about Oregon, they usually think rain. But check out that blue sky – and in January!

I live in Corvallis, Oregon. Corvallis has a population of about 55,000 people when Oregon State University is in session. We’re about a 90 minute drive fron Portland, Oregon’s largest city, and about 45 minutes from Salem, Oregon’s capital. My apartment is in downtown Corvallis, so there are great restaurants and shops nearby. Farmers’ market, the library, and the bus station are a few blocks away.

Strolling along the Willamette River

Strolling along the Willamette River – this is less than a block from my apartment.

There is a great park along the Willamette River as it passes by Corvallis. The park has wide sidewalks for walking dogs, riding bikes, and strolling (my favorite). There’s a fountain that kids like to play in during the summer. Farmers’ market is there twice a week from April-October. There are benches and picnic tables and a skatepark.

The Willamette (wil-LAM-it) River runs from south to north, which is pretty rare for Pacific Northwest rivers. Its headwaters are south of Eugene, and it runs about 200 miles from Eugene, past Corvallis and Salem, to Portland, where it joins the Columbia River (which forms most of the border between Oregon and Washington) and flows out to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the river that Lewis and Clark followed to get to the Pacific, and along the Columbia there are a lot of historical sites from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oregon Trail.

The part of Oregon along the Willamette River is called the Willamette Valley. The valley was was carved out by the Missoula Floods at the end of the most recent ice age. If you don’t know about the Missoula Floods, check them out. They’re pretty fascinating. Basically, an ice dam broke in Montana and the water behind it raced down along what’s now the Columbia Gorge and flooded down into the Willamette Valley. Our fertile soil is actually from Montana – it was deposited here during those floods. The valley is wide and flat and stretches between the Coast Range (pretty small mountains between the valley and the coast) and the Cascades (large volcanic mountains between the valley and Eastern Oregon, which is mostly high desert). Because of the fertile soil and our rain, agriculture is a big deal in the Willamette Valley. Farms grow blueberries, hazelnuts (also called filberts), grass seed, wine grapes, even Christmas trees.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about  how to field-dress a deer.

Stanley was very interested in the speech about how to field-dress a deer.

I used to be an elementary school teacher, and now I teach at the local community college. Stanley came along to work with me. He listened to speeches in my public speaking class, and watched digital stories created by my writing students. He liked that we could walk to LBCC’s campus in about 10 minutes, through a neighborhood of old houses and mature trees.

The digital stories were about where we're from - this is Cerrie's DS about being from the universe.

The digital stories were about where we’re from – this is Cerrie’s DS about being from the universe.

We're almost to OSU! That's it up ahead.

We’re almost to OSU! That’s it up ahead.

On another beautiful day, Stanley and I walked from my apartment to Oregon State University. In June I graduated from OSU with a master’s degree, so it’s a walk I’ve done many times. For my degree I studied the connections between writing and community and resilience (how people are able to recover from hard times in their lives), but most students at OSU are studying science and business and engineering.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn't see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

There are over 25,000 students enrolled at OSU, but we didn’t see very many of them because we were on campus on a Saturday.

This is the library - I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

This is the library – I spent a lot of time in there while I was an OSU student.

I took Stanley on a walking tour of downtown Corvallis.

Central Park

Central Park

My P.O. Box

My P.O. Box

Benton County Courthouse

Benton County Courthouse

Here are a few facts about Oregon. Our state animal is the beaver. We do all of our voting by mail (this ballot drop box is where I return mine). There’s no sales tax in Oregon, so when you buy something that costs $4.99 it really costs $4.99. You can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. Our state motto is, “She flies with her own wings.” Isn’t that lovely? I think so, which is why I have a tattoo of it.

Speaking of tattoos, Stanley came with me to talk to my tattoo artist, Denise, about another tattoo I want to get. Denise offered to give him a tattoo.

Checking out the equipment in Denise's studio

You sit in this chair and put your head in that ring if you’re getting a tattoo on your back – it’s pretty comfy.

This is Denise - she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

This is Denise – she was glad that she got to meet Stanley.

I’m glad that Paolo sent Stanley to me – I had fun thinking of things to show him. I would have taken him out to the coast (about an hour drive west from Corvallis), but I couldn’t make that work. I wonder where the other Stanleys went – I’m sure that the WEVS students have been enjoying this project.

Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. He said that he recognized a lot of them.

The year that WEVS opened, Meghan sent me this picture of WEVS students with the little toys my grandma Betty made for them. Stanley said that he recognized a lot of them.

forty things from my fortieth summer

1. my new car – my mom got herself a new car, and i got her hand-me-down. not bad, eh? closing the back has been reminding me of something, like something i did in another life. the other day i finally realized that it’s what i imagine spinning the wheel on the price is right is like. so far i’ve successfully resisted the impulse to stand next to it after it’s closed and jump up and down while clapping and saying, “come on, one dollar!”


2. wilburys deconstructed – my love of driving around to tom petty music and of this video inspired me to make a great mix. my favorite stuff by the wilburys in their other incarnations. it’s pretty damn good.

3. the leoncavallo family of augusta, georgia – seriously. three quality individuals.


in this photo, i’m playing the role of doug leoncavallo.

4. successful ice cream stops – in portland ME i wandered into a little ice cream shop and one of the customers said to me (in a friendly way), “have you been in here before?” i said that i hadn’t and asked her to tell me what to get. she said banana cream pie ice cream, something i would never have chosen. it was delicious. then i had it again in downtown durham. in augusta, we discovered an amazing ice cream store, bruster’s – so many flavors and the counterfolk were begging us to have samples. i don’t ever remember what kind i ended up getting – i just remember that it was crazy-good.

5. unconditional positive regard – thanks to zari and cheryl strayed, i did some thinking about who has UPR for me and vice versa. here’s one example:


6. the bachelorette – oh man it was a good season. sweet sweet des.

7. PRI – i completed my goal of driving to the pizza research institute in eugene.

8. pistachios on pizza – i was introduced to this in durham, NC, not at PRI. it’s crazy how delicious they make your pizza.

9. portland, maine – the country is bookended by cool cities named portland


this is outside a pub in portland, maine.

10. a drag queen softball game – running in stripper heels for charity (them, not me)

11. dr. pepper – having a car means that i can transport a 12-pack from the store to my apartment. a can of it is like dessert for my afternoon.

12. the china delight lounge – this whole “where dreams go to die” thing? i’m not seeing it.

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13. cards against humanity – another thing that came my way thanks to zari. i got to hear many wildly inappropriate sentences read aloud this summer. the china delight lounge is the perfect place to play.

14. blondies – why am i just now finding out about these?

15. capers – no, not the food. the other kind. i had two going for my buddy robyn’s 40th birthday last month. here she is finding out about the first one:


16. former neighbors

back in our spot

me and olivia back in our spot. i miss having her and her family around.

17. other people’s babies


olivia, jeff, nico, and liz

18. swedish fish

19. larrupin & ramone’s coffee – i didn’t make it to humboldt county this summer, but i did get a few tastes of it thanks to susan and janet.

20. amtrak – i did a lot of amtrak traveling on the east coast this summer. and a few trips up to portland and back.

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1) jaqui is not asleep
2) that food isn’t all emily’s

21. the city of baltimore – zari & kristin – i get it. what a cool city.


gin and tonics on zari’s roof

22. mail – i’m now penpals with a former student who is in prison in california. not exactly a dream of mine, but it’s good to hear from him – i can still see the 4th grader he was. a good opportunity to practice unconditional positive regard.

23. license plates – when i was with the carter family in boston, they started playing the license plate game. now i notice them, too. i haven’t spotted a massachusetts plate yet.

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me with the oldest carter daughter, james. sitting on some famous writer’s grave – i don’t remember which one. james is much more interesting.

24. evening strolls – i’m bringing them back.

25. grilled pimento cheese sandwiches – so tasty. i ate this one in aiken, south carolina with kristin and henry. it’s the reason that south carolina is filled in on my tattoo.


26. my 40th birthday tattoo


my first post-40 trip was to visit robyn and her husband phil in seattle. she asked to pick washington’s color. it’s green.

27. assertive pedestrian – when i’m out walking, i’m doing my part to assert my rights as a pedestrian. if you’re stopped at a stop sign and you make eye contact with me on the curb, i’m going to cross the street in front of you. if you go anyway, even though you see me and i have the right of way, i’m going to give you a mean look. i can’t give you the bird like i’d like to, because my parents would find out. but you’d better believe that i’m giving it to you in my mind.

28. generous driving – i’ve learned a lot about driving from the time i spend walking, and i try to practice generous driving. like giving pedestrians the right of way, waving the other guy through the intersection when it’s a tie, and stopping before the crosswalk. revolutionary, i know.

29. lifesavers – i had totally forgotten about them until i started spending time in various airports this summer. so tasty, and people are delighted to be offered one. now that i’m mature i like pineapple the best.

30. shorty shopping carts

31. monroefest – i got to spend a good chunk of the bounty of benton county hanging out at hard times distillery in monroe. and what do i have to show for it? good times and a bottle of moonshine.

32. a tumor piñata – sandy helped me finish a tumor piñata for tumorfest. i hope a few more folks make one next year.

tumor pinata

33. listen – my word for year five


34. east coast small-town 4th of july parades – muskets! and creepy local traditions! can i do this every year?


35. oblation – jaqui took me to this awesome shop in portland. i managed to keep my spending from hitting triple-digits. but it wasn’t easy.

36. second street – my street is so damn great. i’m glad to go out on adventures, and glad when i’m back on my street.

37. balsamic blueberry crisp – possibly the tastiest thing i baked all summer.

38. butterscotch – it tastes good! i had no idea.

39. fry-day – last month macey and i made our fry-day dream a reality, and we spent a day deep-frying candy bars. in round one we fried half of our assortment (frozen – there’s a tip for you) with one batter recipe. some were amazing and some were disgusting (circus peanuts? whose idea was that?). round two we fried the other half in funnel cake batter. for round three we did an all-star round of our favorites in our favorite batter (funnel cake of course). i thought that the best were toblerone, reese’s peanut butter cups, and rolos. macey liked all of those, but hershey’s cookies and cream bars were her number one. you should probably invite us to your halloween party – we’ll bring good treats and we spent time planning our costumes for this year.


macey’s costume has to do with her current celebrity obsession,
robert downey jr.

40. tumorfest – such a good way to end to year 4 and start year 5. i can’t describe how much tumorfest means to me.



my trip to southern california has me thinking about community.

it’s been a while since my last big train trip, so when the opportunity presented itself (more on that in a bit), i used my 15% discount as a person with a disability and got myself a ticket to head down south. my mom took me to the train station the next town over.

i spent a good part of the trip in the lounge car, enjoying the views and reading the book (“awol on the appalachian trail” by david miller) that my skype book group decided to read this month.

my itinerary was packed. it centered around the forum on acquired disability that the national council on disability was holding at UCLA on june 8th. since it costs the same, i added about a week in the LA area before the forum and about a week in the san diego area after.

this trip has me thinking a lot about community – the communities to which i belong, how a sense of community is created, how community helps recovery. those kinds of things.

community by skype

i was picked up at union station is los angeles by molly and her boyfriend dan. molly and i went to high school together for about two years. we were friendly back then, but i wouldn’t say that we were friends. we reconnected via facebook, and when she suggested that we start a skype book group, i jumped at the idea. she brought in her friend theresa, and i brought in my friends susannah and kristin. kristin and i went to elementary school together. susannah and i went to middle school together. but molly, kristin, and susannah had never met. our book group (the conejo grade literary society) really started picking up steam at our meeting last month when we discussed “wild” by cheryl strayed. the author was a storyteller at an event in portland soon after that meeting, and theresa and i went to the festival together – it was the first time we’d met in person, although we both live in oregon. the other ladies all live in southern california, and we decided to get together for a meal and some drinks when i was in the area. when we did, it was so fun for me to see these ladies at the same table with me, and i was honestly amazed by how much they really knew each other through our skype meetings and the interactions that go on in facebookland.

the conejitas (minus theresa)

each of the women in my book group welcomed me into her home at some point during my stay. these women have become my treasured friends, and i’m glad to be able to build connections with them even though we live far away from each other.

community by facebook, texting, and blogging

almost exactly a year ago, i got a message from laura morris, a woman i’d gone to high school with and who knew about my medical drama because of facebook. she said that her cousin, angelica, had just had a stroke (she was in her thirties), and asked if i would get in touch with her. she also said that she’d passed along the address of my blog, and when i connected with angelica it was clear that she’d read it. in the last year angelica and i have celebrated our accomplishments, shared our fears, read each others blogs (angelica started blogging while she was still in her hospital bed) – generally were there for each other. it took a year until we were there for each other in the same physical space, and when we finally met in person last week it was almost anticlimactic.

anticlimactic in the raddest possible way.

community by geography

i’m writing this at the home of my beloved childhood neighbors, the charnows. they’re responsible for this leg of the kriste relay. they lived across the street from me when i was in elementary school. madalaine and michael are the elders of the family. jesse, their oldest son, was born when we were neighbors. he’s 30 now – which doesn’t seem mathematically possible. daughter erin was also born when we were neighbors. she and her husband sam live here at the charnow compound, along with their toddler daughter, thyme. son noah was born after they moved to encinitas – he’s in art school in san francisco. matriarch madalaine flew to phoenix to help my mom drive back to oregon when i was released from my nursing home. michael has always been “mikey-dad” to me.

these folks set the neighbor bar pretty damn high. they’ve had one really memorable set of neighbors since our time together on henrietta avenue. while i’ve been here i’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how great my current neighbors are, reminding myself how fortunate i am to be in my current living situation.

having the charnows as neighbors changed the course of my life. every single person in the family has had an impact on me. i think that having them across the street at such an impressionable age really made me believe that the universe is friendly and on my side. it encouraged me to reach out and look to build community around me – in my neighborhood, in the classrooms and schools where i taught, in my living room watching the bachelor with friends.

me and thyme, the littlest member of the charnow clan

community by chance

about a month ago, i had a call from the vice-chair of the national council on disability (the council advises the president on disability-related issues). the NCD was holding a forum on acquired disability, and the vice-chair wanted to know if i’d be on a panel at the forum. this was the first time since i became disabled almost 3 years ago that i ever really stopped to think about the elements of my disability which are different from someone who was born with their disability. and the first time that i ever noticed that i have similarities with veterans – vets make up the majority of adults who become disabled.

my role on the panel was to address the issue of how an adult can come to terms with his or her new life after acquiring a disability. i can see why my friend sara (a member of the NCD) suggested me for the panel – i feel like i’ve successfully, and happily, moved my life forward after becoming disabled. this is something that i think about – how did that happen? the members of the panel had a conference call and we emailed in the weeks before the forum to make sure that we were on the same page when it came to the desired outcomes of our panel. i did a lot of thinking about what was the most valuable information that i could share with that group of people – lots of folks from various agencies serving adults with disabilities. by the time the day of the forum arrived, i knew what i wanted to say.

each person on the panel was given a few minutes to speak. i was first, and i told this story – when i got back to corvallis after 2 months in the hospital and nursing home, a friend kept saying, “we can’t wait to have the old kriste back.” it was making me really mad, but i couldn’t put my finger on why. i told my friend noah, twentysomething year-old charnow, and he said the sentence that would change my life. “you’re not the old kriste, you’re kriste 2.0.” aha! i still had many of the qualities of the old kriste, but now i had some brand-new features. that really seemed to resonate with the forum attendees. in fact, it was referenced a time or two at other points during the forum.

there was some talk about how to find newly disabled folks to include them in a supportive community. i brought up facebook – these veterans who are becoming disabled are most likely very familiar and comfortable with facebook. i’m a member of a facebook support group for stroke survivors, as well as one for people dealing with the specific kind of tumor i have – in both groups i get to see myself within a range as opposed to being the outlier among the people i spend time with day-to-day. i also said that because of facebook, i think that my little virtual corner of the world has greater empathy for people who are disabled. i’m very “out” as a disabled person and i have a really diverse group of friends (including teachers of mine from high school, people i went to high school with, and 4th graders i taught who are now young adults) who now pay attention to curb cuts and other accessibility issues.

towards the end of the forum, i was stopped by i. king jordan, who was on a panel after mine. he became deaf in an accident in his early twenties, and went on to become the first deaf president of gallaudet university, a college specifically designed for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. he’s also famous for saying, “deaf people can do anything but hear.” he told me that he admired what i said in my panel, and that he would use the idea of 2.0 from then on. i wanted the forum to go on and on – i loved listening to the stories and mulling over things i’d never thought about before. i look forward to the next opportunity to interact with folks from the acquired disabilities community – they made me proud to call myself a member.

kriste 4.0 at the getty the day before the forum

merriam-webster defines community as, “a unified body of individuals.” when i taught elementary school, i came to see that community is also created by shared experiences – this trip has reminded me of the many different ways that experiences can be shared. i spend a fair amount of time feeling grateful for the individuals in my life who are on the roster of “team kriste” – these folks make a huge difference in my life. but my time in southern california has really caused me to notice the many communities to which i belong. before my medical drama, i referred to myself as the little red hen. but now i see myself at the center of a venn diagram where circles of communities overlap. and 3 years out from the events of the summer of 2009, i’m still surprised to find other circles i hadn’t realized were there.

all this talk about community has placed that word at the top of my list of theme words for year 4.

in the very merry month of may

so here we are on the last day of may. looking back, i’ve had a pretty incredible month. some real sadness (i’m still really not over adam yauch’s death. several friends had bad health news. other friends had some difficult life events.), but all of that puts into perspective how truly fortunate i am.

the month of may began with me in durham, north carolina. i had never spent time in that part of the country before, and i hadn’t seen my hostess, jamie, since soon after we graduated from high school way back when. that added up to a fabulous time and many new experiences – my word for this year.

this was actually on april 30th. cut me some slack, truthniks. it was amazing.

on a sunny day early in may, i took myself out to the ballgame. the durham bulls’ (plural possessive, right?) stadium is a short walk from jamie’s apartment. it was day game on a weekday, which meant that the place was crawling with school groups. i enjoyed not having to supervise anybody – teachers don’t have a lot of fun on field trips.

a perfect day for a baseball game.

that weekend jamie and i went out to the coast to visit my friend meghan. meghan and i were exchange students together in high school. we’ve kept in touch since then, but hadn’t seen each other in person since our senior year.

that’s me in the pink shorts, meghan in the orange shirt.

jamie, kriste, meghan – about to successfully climb the currituck beach lighthouse.

while i was in corolla, i climbed the lighthouse, stood in the atlantic ocean, ate frickles (deep-fried pickle chips), hung out with the locals, bought a few books, watched a snapping turtle lay eggs in meghan’s yard, enjoyed two thunderstorms, and on the morning of my 39th birthday meghan’s sons helped me blow out the candles on my cake.

on my birthday, jamie and i drove back to durham, and she put me on the plane back to oregon the next day. i was sad to leave north carolina, and happy to be home. i like seeing different parts of the country, but i’m really content with where i choose to live.

this is about 40 yards out my back door. i didn’t do anything to the picture – it really is that beautiful.

the day after i got back, i decided to go caneless. i carried my cane all over north carolina, and only really needed it on the beach. for months i’ve only been using it as a way to warn people that they need to be careful around me. when i go caneless, i have to pay a lot more attention to my environment, because my environment is paying less attention to me. i feel like i’m undercover – i think that i look a little drunk the way i wobble around sometimes, but other than that you can’t really tell by looking at me that i’m disabled. i find that drivers don’t wave me through crosswalks as often, but pedestrians ask me for the time and directions more often. i haven’t picked up a cane since that day a few weeks ago. it feels like enormous progress.

going caneless means that today i could do this – walk from my apartment to the riverfront fountain and bring a cup of coffee with me.

i had my birthday dinner with my family when i got back. our tradition is that on your birthday, you chose the restaurant and we all go out to dinner. i chose my old neighbors, murphy’s. it was definitely strange not to have gflo there. but i reminded myself to be greatful for all of the meals at murphy’s that i shared with her.

blast from the past – gflo and my niece jessy at murphy’s

the day before mother’s day, my mom and i went on an outing to sisters – about a 2 hour drive east of corvallis. my mom’s buddy connie met us there. we had a mission, in addition to hanging out together in a great little town. sisters is known for its quilts, and my mom was looking for a cute bag to hold the box of gflo’s remains while she’s “in a better place” – the back of the guest bedroom closet in my parents’ house. when we picked up her remains from the fiendish-sounding neptune society, they were given to us in one of those reusable grocery totes. it didn’t seem right, so for mother’s day my mom wanted to shop with her daughter and her FOLD (friend of longest duration) and find a more suitable bag.

gflo was flashy sometimes, and we found a great bag that seemed like something she’d like and was the right size. we walked around town (all three of us were caneless – that was my outing away from my hometurf) and had lunch at a great cafe with tasty food and an outdoor patio.

a lovely bag for a lovely woman

the next weekend, my mom and i headed up the columbia gorge to visit gflo’s sister dorothy, who lives in walla walla, washington. on the way we happened upon the full sail brewery in hood river. lunch was delicious with a great view. we stopped there on our way back, too.

best quesadilla ever

it was whitman college’s graduation that weekend, so walla walla was jumpin’. after dinner my mom’s cousin bill took me out for a walk to see the campus.

see, i take pictures of things other than food.

the next day we went out to the town of dayton, where bill is a pastor. he and my mom golfed. i hung out with aunt dorothy for a while, then went on a stroll around downtown. i stopped for a latte, and the barista asked me if i wanted to drink it on the rooftop garden. my policy is to always answer in the affirmative when asked that question. and my new canefree existence means that i can walk up stairs (that have a railing) with a cup of coffee in my non-railing hand.

in addition to going caneless, may has brought other physical challenges. i’m taking 2 gentle yoga classes at the yoga center, a block away from my apartment. i had done some yoga before my medical drama, and for years i’ve wanted to take a class at this studio. my parents gave me a gift certificate for christmas, and i decided to hold onto it until i was feeling better (christmas was at the height of my shunt-malfunction/potential surgery uncertainty and discomfort). i still don’t think that i feel as well as i did before things went haywire, but i certainly have improved and felt ready to give the class a try. gentle yoga uses a lot of props – bolsters, blocks, straps – to help folks who might have frustration-level difficulty in a more traditional beginning yoga class. i’ve had class twice a week this spring, and i see so much improvement. it’s encouraging that i’m still recovering, but in more finely-tuned ways. i’m looking forward to the summer session.

the yoga center

this month i also had about 6 pilates sessions. it blew my mind what i could do. it also made me spend a lot of time thinking about my nursing home physical therapist, dennis, who started me on the path to being able to sit up on my own, and anne (my home health therapist when i got back to corvallis from phoenix), who taught me how to crawl and to walk with a walker. and my physical therapist brian, who really taught me how to walk. i remember holding onto the counter in my kitchen, doing the grapevine over and over while i worked on relearning how to transfer weight from one foot to the other. and i remember when i couldn’t be in a room with a ceiling fan, because it would send my vertigo out of control. my pilates teacher, lyssa, had me doing things that kriste2.0 would not believe. progress. even as i near the 3 year anniversary this summer.

about a week ago, i took the train to portland. emily picked me up and zari met us at potato champion for dinner. i’d been eating pb&j sandwiches for days as i waited to get my order of pb&j fries. they didn’t disappoint.

seriously. these are insanely good.

the three of us headed over to the mission theater for a back fence pdx storytelling event. one of the storytellers (cheryl strayed) that night is the author of the book my skype book group just read. i met one of the book clubbers, theresa, for the first time in person that night. after the show, i got to see the house that emily and her husband bought. in fact, i even got to spend the night there. the next morning, i met my friend bucko. he gave me a tour of his new apartment and his new neighborhood. he drove me back to corvallis, so we had lots of time to chat.

the view from bucko’s stoop

this weekend, zari took the bus down from portland. when she got here we immediately went to farmers’ market for zia burritos. we spent lots of time chatting, walking, drinking, cooking, watching queer eye – sometimes several of those things at once. i used to babysit for zari when she was a preschooler, and i’m grateful to have been a part of her life since she was a little kid. and it’s so much fun to get to be adults together.

my mom and i took zari for her first wine tasting experience. my friend marcia did the honors.

one evening i took zari to my current favorite downtown lounge, terminus. we enjoyed some drinks and the folks and the view and the food.

happy hour drinks at terminus

this month i’ve also started to really enjoy baking. i found a great book about cooking small pies in muffin tins. i’ve been making a lot of them – there’s dough in my fridge right now. i’m thinking about either salted caramel apple or lemon meringue this evening.

sweet potato pies – in honor of north carolina

i’ve also watched a lot of queer eye in may. my friend jessica mentioned that it’s on netflix instant, and it’s my current reality tv addiction. i spend a lot of time analyzing which of the fab 5 is my favorite, and what that might mean.

maybe i’ll get a doctorate in studying what is revealed by a person’s favorite queer eye guy, monkee, beatle, beastie boy, etc.

which reminds me. i forgot to mention my big may news – i’ll be starting a master’s degree at osu in the fall! more on that later.

and june isn’t looking too shabby either.

road trip

my beloved friend emily invited me to go on a road trip with her, and it just happened that the dates she wanted to go worked for me. hey – the universe is friendly and life is on my side. maybe at some point in my recovery i’ll want to examine the meaning of things like that, but for now i say, “sure, thanks, universe!” and call it synchronicity.

this morning i got to thinking about the folks i saw when i was on this trip, and their significance in my recovery. i’ll do them in road trip itinerary order.

so i’ll start with emily. she and i had just met and become fast friends about a month before my medical drama.

emily, me, caroline - berkeley, june 2009.

she has been such an integral part of my recovery that i’ll just sum it up with this – i have her writing tattooed on my back. my theme word for year one of my recovery was “new” and i asked emily to write it for my anniversary tattoo.

we spent the night in arcata in janet and ben’s house. unfortunately they were on the east coast so we were only able to spend time with their things, not them.  it felt good to be in their house again. they’ve been my friends since i was in college – getting to be about 20 years now. emily had never been to humboldt county, so i gave her a tour of the dozen years that i lived there. it was even sunny and warm (relatively) at the beach.

we took a bottle of wine over to visit my friend paula. paula was my guardian angel when i was a fledgling adult. she talked to me, gave me excellent advice, brought me food when i was sick. i spent a lot of time at her kitchen table. i also spent a lot of time with her son morgan.

morgan, maddie, matthew, me.

i lost touch with paula when i moved to oregon. in a strange turn of events (synchronicity?), my daughter ended up living with her for a while. so paula was back in my life. an incredible silver lining.

morgan was home, so he sat around the table with us. i felt so grateful to be in that kitchen with those folks.

paula with karla at her graduation dinner

after a night in arcata, emily drove us to the east bay. she even got to drive through a tree – a lifelong goal. we had lovely weather the whole way down 101.

the next day i walked to a coffee shop a mile or so from where we were staying. my friend christina met me there and we chatted for a while. actually, for longer that we’ve ever chatted in my life. christina is my friend sandy’s older sister, and she was enough years ahead of me in school to be considered horrifying and unreachable. but we ended up friends on facebook, and she’s been a person who has checked in with me and given me encouragement and kindness during these last 2 years. no way on earth would i have ever guessed that i’d feel compelled to spend some time with her. and that she’d be convinced to spend some time with me. she was kind enough to remind me that encouragement is a two-way street – she’s been able to identify with me as i move along on this recovery journey. something i don’t always remember, that letting people help me helps them. this is a big lesson learned for me.

hand monday - it shoulda been me edition. christina and i were nerds and forgot to pose for her world famous hand monday.

on sunday emily drove us into san francisco, where we met up with my friend noah. noah’s family lived across the street from me when i was in elementary school. before he was even born.

my neighbor family - i'm third from the left in the back, noah's down in front in the middle.

his family lives in southern california, and he moved to the bay area to go to art school a few years ago. when his niece was born last summer, we planned our trips down there to overlap. that was the last time we’d seen each other. he led us to a great restaurant where we had lunch, and then we met emily’s friend kari around the corner at the museum of modern art. we walked around and checked out the art together, then he headed home on his bike and we headed back for our last night in the east bay.

noah has a place of honor at my recovery table. when i first got back to corvallis from the hospital, a friend kept saying, “we just can’t wait to have the old kriste back.” i told noah that this was really bugging me because i felt like the old kriste was gone. he said, “you’re kriste 2.0,” and changed the course of my recovery. it was such a powerful way to think about what had happened, and i’ve since figured out that lots of people’s lives get split up like this. but i was a trauma rookie. i see the time when i was putting most of my energy into the work of recovery as kriste 2.0. now that i put that energy into living, i see myself as kriste 3.0. 4.0 might be when i’m back working full-time – i don’t know when that will be or what i’ll be doing, but i’m enjoying the journey to get there and i’m excited to see what’s next.

so emily, paula, christina and noah are a pretty great cross-section of my recovery. i feel such gratitude for them and the folks like them who support me on this journey. the time you folks give me makes all the difference – i wouldn’t be in this spot (which is a great spot, by the way) without you. i’m excited to see where we all are 2 years from now.

noah and kriste 3.0 - san francisco, august 2011.

the eiffel tower

my friend lisa is a photographer. before my medical drama, i hated having my picture taken. even by lisa.

mere weeks before my diagnosis. i can almost see the tumor back there behind my left eye.

after my medical drama, lisa noticed that having my picture taken didn’t make me grumpy anymore. i think that it’s like being on vacation in paris and having your picture taken in front of the eiffel tower. why do you do it? to show that you were there since you probably won’t be back anytime soon. same reason. those pictures show where i was. i asked my mom to take pictures when i was in the hospital, and she delivered. i look at those pictures and i remember that i survived, and i’m getting better every day. i’m reminded of where i was and how far i’ve come. without the pictures, i think it would seem less real than it already does. and when other people look at them, well that’s when it gets really real. so i’ll show you a few. thanks for looking at them.

still in the hospital. check out that half-smile. my stylish headband covers the shaved parts and a nasty drill-hole above my forehead.

in this picture i have my eyes closed because of my newfound crazy double vision. and the half-smile is because the left side of my face is entirely numb. back then i spent a whole day practicing my grandma’s scowl in a mirror, and it’s improved gradually since then. people tell me now that it’s not very noticeable. as embarrassing as it was back then, i’m glad to have pictures of the way i looked.

and there’s my cup of ice chips!

i spent 3 weeks in that squeaky nursing home bed.

this is me with meseret. she was on the staff of capri, the nursing home i was in after i was released from the hospital.

my mom, brian, me, karen

this one is of me paying a visit to 6N, my home away from home at st. joseph’s hospital, before my mom and i headed back to oregon. i’m leaning on brian because i love him, and also because my balance is shot and i have constant vertigo. i have no doubt that my mom just said, “open both of your eyes.”

lisa took this picture.

this was my first visit to the school where i taught before my medical drama, about 4 months after my surgeries. lisa was taking pictures, and she was amazed at my ungrumpiness. “honey, while i’m here get a picture of me in this here wheelchair. who knows when i’ll be back again.”

i think that my mom's finger just adds to it...

i’m so glad to have this picture. it was taken at creekside, a coffee shop near my parents’ house. creekside was the home of many firsts. most importantly to me, it was the first place out in the world where i was left alone. my mom, after much troubleshooting, would leave me there while she did her grocery shopping down the road. a big step towards the new normal. creekside closed that winter, and finally reopened in a new location a month or two ago. it will always be a special place to me.

i was still pretty shaky here, and probably just took off my pink gait belt for the photo op. that’s the walker my elderly grandma let me borrow. i’m holding onto it for dear life.

one-handed walking. harder than you think.

this was one of the first times i walked any distance with my quad cane. the switch from a walker to one-handed walking was horrifying. at the time i compared it to walking a tightrope. without a net. i was rocking the low-slung gait belt for laughs. i have really good memories of this day – i’m glad to have a picture from it.

another picture by lisa.

now i did not reach this advance state of one-handed walking overnight. it took me about a year. on this day, lisa and i went on a hike. it was my first time hiking in mud. lisa had her camera ready in case i wiped out. clearly i didn’t or i’d use that picture here.

it's green where i live.

my cousin took this picture when he visited earlier this month. i like it because i think it still shows progress. my cane is there – i’m not trying to hide it or anything – but it’s not front and center. which is how my life is now.

when my cousin took this picture i realized that part of the new normal is that i’m grumpy about having my picture taken again. i need to remind myself that i’m still in paris, and i don’t know when i’ll ever be back again. so i’ll remember to keep having my picture taken. the kriste 2 years from now will smile when she looks at them.